Please help me welcome Kathy Otten with her new release, HEART OF ASH, a M/M Historical Romance Short Story…
Eleven Days—The Life Expectancy of a World War One Pilot
Captain Elliot Bainbridge and Lieutenant Harry March, the characters in my new, historical romance short story Heart of Ash, are British pilots in the Royal Flying Corps, fighting during World War I.
While the notion of becoming a pilot at the forefront of aviation, these eager, young pilots, many of whom were in their late teens and early twenties, were only given an average of seventeen hours of instruction (expanded to fifty hours later in the war), with as little as five hours of flying time in planes they would not fly in combat. Approximately 8,000 pilots died during training between 1914 and 1918. If they survived, they were sent to France to fight Germans who had better planes and better training.
Once stationed in France, pilots engaged in dogfights in machines made of canvas, wire, and wood. They had few instruments and would have to flip the engine off and on to slow down for landing. They flew without parachutes. Averaged together, this gave a pilot in the early part of the war a life expectancy of eleven days.
Over confidence was usually fatal, while self-doubt could give a pilot the edge he needed to stay alive. Eventually, the more flight and combat experience a pilot gained, the better his chances of survival.
While these men played football, drank, and sang together, they seldom allowed themselves to grow close. Sometimes they never knew each other’s full name. Men were there and then they were gone. Speaking about death aloud was avoided at all cost. Instead, when a pilot was killed, they spoke of it in obscure terms, such as, “So and So has gone west.” They believed each man had predetermined amount of luck and worried about the day that luck would run out. Nightmares were common. Nothing was more terrifying to these young men, than the possibility of burning to death. Some men kept a loaded pistol in the cockpit, and a few chose to jump to their death rather than burn.
The plane Elliot, the hero in my story, flew was a French plane, the Nieuport 11, which had been designed to counter the Fokker Scourge in 1916, the summer my story takes place. The biggest disadvantage the Nieuport had was that it didn’t have an interrupter gear, which the Germans had developed for their planes, allowing the machine gun to fire through the propellor. The Nieuport had its Lewis machine gun mounted on the top wing. A cable ran from the trigger to the pilot enabling him to fire the weapon. The gun used a Foster mount system which allowed the pilot to drop the gun down to change the drum, rather than forcing him to stand in order to reload.
Another problem was that sometimes during high-speed dives, the lower wing would stagger and the fabric could rip off.
Despite the level of danger a pilot faced, to the men confined in the mud of the trenches and the terror of no-mans-land, looking up to see a plane soar through the sky was a life to envy. The newspapers glorified that notion by creating heroic Aces to encourage the people at home about the war rather than putting the focus on depressingly high statistics of infantry death rates. Thus, the myth of the heroic pilot was born.
But while the life of a pilot was easier than living in a trench, it was no less dangerous, and for the two heroes in my story, they each had to decide whether or not it was worth risking their hearts.
In the skies over France during the Great War, the life expectancy of a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps is measured in days. Captain Elliot “Ash” Bainbridge is certain he’ll be the next pilot sent spinning to earth in a ball of fire. Not because the Germans will shoot him down, but because God will punish him for daring to love another man. When Ash met Lieutenant Harry March, their attraction was instant. But Harry hates Ash’s fatalistic attitude. He believes in capturing the moment. Can Ash set aside his fear of death and take a chance on love? Or should he try to keep his heart safe from hurt forever?
“You can’t…we can’t clutter our minds with lust or friendship, whatever this is. You can’t face the Huns if your perceptions are dulled thinking of me, or I you. Up there we must keep clear minded.”
March shook his head. The gold of early morning light reflected a glimmer of sadness in his eyes. “I can’t do that. Every time we go up, I watch your tail. I can’t think of you in the same way as the rest of this lot.”
“You must, because whether it’s a Fokker or another Albatros, it won’t matter after today.”
Published author, book coach, and developmental editor, Kathy lives in the rolling farmland of Western New York. Her novels and short stories are filled with wounded heroes and feisty heroines. Her Civil War novel, A Place in Your Heart was a Northwest Houston RWA Lone Star winner, and her historical western Lost Hearts, a Utah/Salt Lake RWA Hearts of the West finalist. An active member of Pennwriters, Inc., and leads an area critique group. Kathy teaches fiction writing at the local adult education center and presents workshops on-line as well as at conferences and author events. When she’s not writing, Kathy can be found walking her German Shepherd, Henry, through the woods and fields near her home, or curling up with her cat and a good book.