For most non-historians, World War I has disappeared into the mists of time. Other than old films of trenches and piano-wire-clad biplanes racing across the front, eyewitness accounts have been long been forgotten, read only by necessity or those few whose interests have not yet faded.
Yet these years saw tremendous change, spurred on by the war torn era, as countries displaced 19th century methods of wrecking havoc with new 20th century technologies. The most change could be seen in the growth of aviation. The “aeroplane”, as it was called, assumed the central stage in military planning.
Able to fly farther and higher than the previous aerial technology of balloons, these aerial eagles changed the face of modern war and prepared us for the coming wars of the 20th century. But these early planes were not always successful, the technology a delicate dance between designer wishes and physical reality. We shouldn’t put aside however, the amazing willingness of inventors to try new things and new approaches. We can see this in today’s examination of the now oft-forgotten Christmas Bullet.
Unlike other biplanes of the day, the uniqueness of this design lie in the facts that the wings were not bound together with miles of wires and tie-d0wns. The inventor, Dr. Christmas, held the theory that much like bird’s wings, aeroplanes could be designed along this same princple.
In the source, Textbook of Applied Aeronautic Engineering by Henry Woodhouse, I’ve found a great technical quote that describes both the form and function of Dr. Christmas’s design:
“…A most radical departure from what has heretofore been believed to be necessary practice is the entire elimination of struts cables and wires in the bracing of the wings as well as the absence of wiring in the internal structure of the wings…”
This illusion of safety, contrary to the image in the Valspar ad below, proved to be just that: an illusion. On the test flights we have information on (as well as eyewitness accounts), resulted in crashes and the unfortunate death of the test pilots. However, we cannot totally disregard Dr. Christmas for his contributions to aviation and other plane designs. Included in this was the first practical usages of ailerons.
Yes, the World War One era is a facinating look back at the infant technology of aviation. Of the willingess to experiment and see just what made for good science (and bad)! To find out more about this facinating topic as well as Dr. Christmas, I’ve assembled some links below to get you started in your research! Make certain that you read the interview of Dr. Christmas listed in the War Expenditures source…it’s a facinating read on both the era and Dr. Christmas!
Have a great day!