Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? You bet it's a plane! To be precise, it's two planes—both from World War I. Banking at right is a German Pfalz D-12, flown by Frank Tallman, a Hollywood stunt pilot with pluming scarf. Coming up under the tail is a Nieuport 28, piloted by Cole Palen of Rhinebeck, N. Y. Will the Nieuport get the Pfalz? Turn the page for more on the latest—and most esoteric—of hobbies
THE PLAYING SKIES OF WORLD WAR I
Every age in history has its admirers. Raymond Duncan, the dancer, wears a homespun tunic and longs for the glory that was Greece. The late Sol Bloom, Congressman, loved nothing more than to dress up as George Washington, the Father of our Country. A goodly number of Americans are so bewitched by the Civil War that they recently refought, with no noticeable change in the result, the Battle of Bull Run. Now the latest craze is World War I planes. Antique aircraft enthusiasts, joined by a smattering of sports car drivers, classic car buffs and gun collectors, most of whom are psychologically driven to the exotic, have, in the last three years, seized upon World War I as an outlet for their romantic fantasies.
"The World War I interest is just doubling itself by the month," says Robert McGrath, proprietor of the World War I Aero Bookshop in Roslindale, Mass. "With the advent of jets and missiles, aircraft lost their romance. A jet or a missile is just the carrier of a pilot. World War I pilots flew the plane. They were charioteers, and it was man against man."
Mel Torm�, the singer, a dedicated World War I fan, says, "People who are fascinated by flying are, if not disgusted, at least disillusioned by this jet age, this push-button age." Two years ago Torm� and a number of other enthusiasts helped Hugh Wynne, an architect in Santa Ana, Calif., found The Society of World War I Aero Historians. The society now has upwards of 500 members in the U.S. and abroad and publishes a scholarly quarterly, Cross & Cockade Journal, given over to detailed articles on such subjects as the Austrian Berg single-seater and the Escadrille Lafayette. ("A lot of junk has been written about the Escadrille," Wynne says, "and all kinds of people have claimed they were in it.") In recognition of growing interest in World War I, the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton held a reunion for World War I flyers last June. The guests, led by Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, America's leading ace, looked on as pilots performed in vintage World War I planes. No one indulged in dogfighting, but the day that that returns may not be far off.
The World War I craze shows signs of catching on with a wider public. Li'l Abner, the comic strip, recently featured a dogfight between Captain Eddie Rickety back and "Kaiser Bill's Greatest Ace," Baron Ludvig von Henhausen. A couple of Hollywood producers are racing to get their World War I series on TV first. (Actually, there may well be more than enough room for two. The World War I genre has, the Lord help us, all the exploitive potential of the Western.) Riverside Records, specialists in sports car engine sounds, have pressed World War I Fighter Planes in Action, the big selling point of which is the sound of two German Pfalz D-XIIs being pursued by two British Sopwith Camels. To add to the realism the sound track even includes machine-gun fire directed at the Boches by a French infantryman, who opens up, according to the jacket notes, "a little soon to be effective."
The book publishing business, too, is beginning to take note of World War I interest. The leader in the field is Harley-ford Publications Limited of England. The firm has brought out several lavishly illustrated and expensive ($8.50 each) books, e.g., Air Aces of the 1914-1918 War and von Richthofen and The Flying Circus, which The Society of World War I Aero Historians has pronounced to be "a noble effort." The main outlet for Harleyford in the U.S. is Gordon's Bookshop on 59th Street in New York City, hitherto the unofficial headquarters for automobile cultists of all kinds.
The Flying Spy
Long-forgotten histories of World War I aeronautics are suddenly being sought after as classics, and prices have tripled in the past few years. A fine copy of Norman Hall's Balloon Buster Frank Luke of Arizona
brings $30. Hall and Nordhoff's two-volume study, The Lafayette Flying Corps, sells for up to $150, and the war letters and memorial volumes, dedicated to such flyers as Edmond Genet, Norman Prince, Victor Chapman and Hamilton Coolidge fetch as much as $75 apiece. The latest writer to come on strong is Elliott White Springs. His books, written in the '20s, are common, but since his death two years ago interest in his work has revived. (An eccentric mill owner, Springs is perhaps best remembered as the author of the saucy Springmaid advertisements. An ace in World War I, he wrote a handful of flying stories and novels, notably War Birds, that were so astonishingly successful that they earned him $250,000.)
Even pulp magazines of the '20s are in demand, particularly copies of the monthly, G-8 and His Battle Aces. G-8, it may be recalled, was not only the Master American Flying Spy but a master of the makeup kit. Whenever G-8 got in a tight spot, which was about every other page, he removed his makeup kit "from its secret hiding place," disguised himself and quickly outfoxed the hated Huns who were searching the woods for that "verdammter Kerl!" Little did they know that the old farmer bicycling down the road was the Master Spy making his getaway. Assisting G-8 were his Battle Aces, big Bull Martin, "former All-American halfback," and Nippy Weston, "the little terrier ace who defied superstition by flying Spad No. 13 and who delighted in laughing in the very face of death."