We’ve Heard About Being on the Edge of Your Seat, But Have You Ever Been Out of It?
If you fly long enough, there’s a good chance you’ll have a story about a potential close call. Whatever your story is, we’re willing to bet it’s not as harrowing as the one told by Royal Flying Corps pilot, Reginald Makepeace.
During a dogfight in January 1918, he bunted his Bristol F.2B into a steep dive, and the negative Gs tossed his gunner/observer, Captain John H. Hedley, out of his seat.
What you may not know is at the time, none of the Royal Flying Corps airmen were issued parachutes in order to keep them from taking the “easy out.”
So, while the aircraft continued its dive, Hedley fell several hundred feet. By some miracle, Hedley and the airplane wound up coming back together, and Hedley found himself clinging to the flat-topped aft fuselage of the fighter.
He managed to crawl back to his pit and went on, apparently nonplussed, to score 11 victories before being shot down and imprisoned two months later. (Makepeace himself had 17 victories scored with his forward-firing gun, so they were literally a deadly duo.)
After the war, Hedley became an American, moved to Chicago, and at least for a while made a living billing himself as “The Luckiest Man Alive” and giving lectures about his adventure. Had he instead moved to Berlin, he’d have had to share the stage with 1st Lt. Otto Berla, who on May 24, 1917, had been the observer aboard an Albatros C.V. when a sudden bout of turbulence bunted the airplane’s nose down and popped an unbelted Berla up and out of his rear seat. He and the airplane briefly formated until a second updraft forced the tail up again just in time to meet the rapidly descending Berla, who punched feet first through the plywood-skinned turtledeck just aft of his cockpit. Very happy to be back aboard, Berla rode back to base in his new temporary office.