Jack D. Hunter's Blog
May 21, 2007
As it does for so many of us airminded airheads, my livelihood
depends pretty much on the Internet. And when my computer has
been reduced to a smoldering heap, as it has been for the past week or
so, I alternate between stiff-legged tantrums and mood indigo.
To get my mind on other things during this latest electronic
swoon, I set about putting some old files in order. As I leafed,
brooding, through some newspaper columns I’d written back in the late
70s, I came across the one on August Quoos, an erstwhile German World
War I pilot. And my mood lifted. Even after all this time,
little old August reminded me that resignation – surrender – ain’t an
Since the column seemed apropos of this newsletter’s preoccupation with
World War I planes and fliers, I thought you might enjoy reading it.
Here’s the column as it appeared in the Sunday News Journal,
Wilmington, Delaware, March 6, 1977:
There aren’t many of them left.
Those who remain have white hair and dimming eyes now, and
they usually admit to no more than sketchy memories of that ancient
war, and who was in it, and why.
August Quoos is different, though. He has the white
hair, to be sure, but he can still tell you precisely why the Fokker D7
was such a fine airplane to fly, why the Albatros D3 was not, and just
how it feels to be hurtling through a dogfight, squinting across the
sights of twin Spandau machine guns and tack-tack-tacking shots into
the tail of a falling Spad.
Quoos’ luck ran strong, for those terrible times. He
served with the German Air Service throughout the hell of World War I,
surviving four years of aerial combat over three fronts and earning a
few broken bones and a respectable number of medals in the process.
Four years amount to a lot of survival, when you consider the
fact that the average combat life span of a flier in those days was
measured in minutes.
Today Quoos is a retired mechanical engineer, living with his
wife in Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He came to the
States in 1927, and in the subsequent decades he built a career in the
American steel industry and its satellite activities.
Quoos dropped me a note the other day, inviting me down to his
home. We hadn’t met, but he’d heard that I’m an antique airplane
buff and he thought it would be pleasant for us to get together for a
bit of hangar flying.
He’s a small man, with a soldier’s square shoulders, and a
face open and quick to smile. He’d prepared for my visit by
getting out his photo albums and memorabilia, and we had no more than
shaken hands when the room was full of airplane talk.
“Yes, I had some difficult experiences,” Quoos said, German
inflections still to be heard in his voice after all his years of
speaking fluent English. “The worst, though, was in January 1917,
just after I had been transferred to the Western Front from Russia,
where I’d been flying observation and bombing missions.
“My observer and I were familiarizing ourselves with the new
Rumpler C-4, one of the latest reconnaissance biplanes, and part of the
exercise called for air-to-ground gunnery. I’d dive the plane
toward a target at the edge of the airfield and fire a burst from my
forward gun. Then I’d pull up in a climbing turn, and the
observer would fire the rear gun at the target as we flew away.
“In the last pass of the flight, I was in a sharp turn to the
left when the ailerons froze. With the controls jammed, I was
locked into the turn and sinking, and it looked as if we were
finished. But I thought real fast, and I figured I could keep us
from falling into a tight spiral if I applied full power.
“I did, and the nose rose nearly to the horizontal, although
the wings were still cocked in a steep bank to the left. Well, I
kept gunning the engine, and instead of coming down in a hopeless spin
we flew into the ground in a kind of controlled crash.
“The observer flew right out of his cockpit and landed some
distance away, unhurt. But I was trapped in the wreckage with a
pair of broken knees and a strut piercing my fur flying suit and
pinning me to the seat.”
“How long were you in the hospital?”
“Four weeks. Then I was assigned to a flight school as
an instructor, and I taught 31 men to fly. It was very boring
duty, and so, when the chance came, I volunteered for assignment to
the Mesopotamian Front.
“My friends said I was crazy to give up a soft job behind the
lines for combat service in a filthy, sand-filled no-where. Maybe
I was. But I was young and ambitious. You know how it is with
young people. Hunger for recognition, and so on.”
“Any rough incidents there?”
Quoos nodded reflectively. “It was all rough there. Very
primitive. A pilot had to fly all kinds of bad equipment under
all kinds of bad conditions. For instance, we used to have to fly
an Albatros C3 to a depot, fill the rear cockpit with fuel drums, and
then return to the squadron so we could fly our missions the next day
or so. On one of these shuttle flights I was attacked by two
“I had no machine gun, no rear gunner. Just a load of
gas. I went down to the deck and hedgehopped to my airfield with
the English chasing me all the way. At the edge of the field was
this 100-foot cliff, and, since I was landing downwind I saw I wouldn’t
be able to stop before I went over the cliff. So, while the plane
was still rolling, I crawled out of my cockpit and jumped over the
side. I just sat in the dust and watched the C3 roll right to the
edge of the cliff and stop inches away from a 100-foot fall.”
“So what happened next?”
“The following day I went up for revenge. I was in an
Albatros D5 fighter, which had a radiator in the top wing, just right
of the cockpit. The radiator in this machine was defective.
I saw a formation of three DeHavillands and two Spads, and I
attacked. Just as the fight began, with everybody milling about,
my cooling system broke a line and squirted hot water all over
me. I was surrounded by Englishmen, and I couldn’t see a thing.
So, wiping my face and flying by feel, I turned tail and ran. The
Albatros was a mass of bullet-holes.”
“And you ever see the British guys again?”
“A few days later I was on patrol and I saw the same
bunch. I attacked again and shot down one of the Spads and one of
He’d said it so casually, so rather modestly, it was difficult
to discern the drama that’s implicit in a lone pilot’s attacking five
enemy planes. It takes a special breed for a scene like that, I
thought. And then I felt a kind of weariness — a Weltschmerz — in
which I had a sense of all the young hotheads of all the wars in
history, all seeking and striving and yearning for the medals and
applause and the national adulation.
For every lionized superhero, there are a thousand heroes who
go unsung. For every Von Richthofen there are legions of August
Quooses. And when all the shooting’s done and all the dying is
accomplished and all the crying is stilled, enemies become allies and
allies become enemies, and planning for the next one begins. And
the medals are locked away in attics, and nobody gives a damn.
I think Quoos detected this sudden gloom of mine. When I
was at the door, ready to leave, he gave me a steady blue stare and
said, “I learned something important in the crash of that Rumpler.”
“Learned what, Mr. Quoos?”
“A man must never give up. If I’d have shut my eyes and
given up, the Rumpler would have spun in, and my observer and I would
have died. Too many pilots did that. They gave up too
soon. And they died. I learned that I must always keep my
eyes open and keep thinking and struggling to the very end.”
As I drove home I realized he’d been trying to tell me that
all of life is like a Rumpler with jammed ailerons.
If we don’t give up — if we keep our eyes open and keep
struggling, applying whatever power we have — chances are the bumps
won’t get us.
* * *
Work on my new novel (working
title The Ace) continues, with the cursor hovering around the
300-page mark out of a projected 400 pages. The toughest part, as
it was with The Blue Max, is trying to make historical fact
read like entertainment fiction and vice versa. This time the work is
much more complex. The Blue Max was centered primarily on
a canvas limited by the experiences of a single pilot in a German
frontline Jasta in the period January 1 through November 30,
1918. The Ace is a multi-tiered epic spanning the entire
history of the American Air Service, from its birth-pangs in 1916
through its climactic involvements on the Western Front in 1918.
The story entwines three sub-plots: (1) the rise of a penniless
youngster to the peak of World War I combat achievement and fame; (2)
the corruption and sleight-of-hand at the highest levels of government
as the nation struggles to provide the planes and equipment needed by
the young men who will fight the actual air battles; and (3) an
off-beat love story. The cast of characters is so lengthy I have
to keep notes on who’s who and why. And one of the biggest
challenges is to make the dialogue “sound” the way people talked back
then and to avoid usages and slang that prevail today. What was
“cool” back in World War I rings pretty durn corny today, and, as an
author with one eye on editors and critics, I need to convey a sense of
real time without myself coming across as corny. Oy, boy....
Copyright © 2007
by Jack D. Hunter. All rights reserved. No part of this
document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.