Empyreal

Posted on July 28, 2012

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I do not like flying. The very idea of leaving the safety of the ground fills me with terror. Perhaps, being born underneath the end of an airport runway did not help matters. Ingraining in my psyche, from an early age, an irrational fear of everything aviation related.

Maybe Oscar Grieg would have changed my mind? I wrote about Oscar a few weeks ago, describing his exploits with the Royal Flying Corps during the first world war. Oscar was a true pioneer of flying. Taking his first flight just nine years after the Wright Brothers ground breaking powered flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903.

Oscar flew biplanes, prehistoric ancestors of todays jets. Magnificent flying machines made from nothing more than canvas, wood, and a few steel wires. He received only thirty-five minutes training before entering combat. His cockpit open to the elements, he had no parachute or seat belt, making looping maneuvers in particular more dangerous than they all ready were. He also loved flying.

 Oscar ‘s first plane. 1912

Here, from his archives held at the Imperial War Museum in London, Oscar describes how flying, in those early days, touched his heart like no other feeling on earth.

“People rave of the joys of dancing, hunting, skating, motoring, and so on,  but there is nothing to compare with the joys of flying. To express Joie de vivre to the fullest extent it is necessary to fly.  How can skating or dancing, where motion is limited to two directions compare with flying,  where one can move freely in three directions, where one can perform antics utterly impossible on the ground and amongst scenery of the most magnificent and majestic beauty? and for music there is the music of the spheres, not to be drowned by the rhythm of the engine, and the total absence of all the imperfections and ugliness of the works of man.”

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“One day I was flying about a hundred feet above a very thick haze, and noticed that in it were patches that looked like dense black smoke, small in area, perhaps only a few feet across, so thick that it was practically impossible to see through them. On coming down close to them I could see that they stood up a little from the level of the haze in general, like irregular mole hills.  After flying around one, I saw that the tops of some of them were getting grey, and in a short time this grey became pure white, and there was a little cloud about the size of a pillow. These baby clouds grew in size very quickly, and in about an hour some of them were the size of a cottage.”

“There is little doubt that the cumuli are the most interesting and beautiful of all clouds. Their vast size makes a flight amongst them become an exploration, every second revealing new beauties . One feels compelled to go on and on, just to see what it is like round the next corner, to look at the sunny side, then to compare it with the the shady side. Then to fly over and around it, and then return to see how it has changed in shape.

Another point in their favour is their compactness, their definite outline; one can tell to an inch where the boundary of the cloud is; one can fly with one wing hidden in the mist to within one arms length, and yet be in brilliant sunshine and clear air which one gets at this altitudes. They are superior in beauty to snow covered mountains for they are tens of shapes that no mountain could be.”

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“I remember once seeing a narrow opening of a gorge only perhaps fifty yards wide, but some thousands of feet high between two peaks each large enough to have made a very big cloud. I decided to fly though this passage, but as I approached I saw that it was rapidly closing up. As it was a long way round and would have taken a long time to climb over I went on.

When I entered my wing tips were touching the two sides of the gorge. In a few seconds I could only see a narrow vertical strip of sky and landscape which got more and more narrower until I could have touched the sides one with each hand before it finally closed right up entirely enveloping me in mist. By keeping carefully on the same course I soon came out into the sunshine on the other side.

A gap such as this seems to make the view beyond appear still more beautiful, I suppose in the same way that a frame improves a picture. On another occasion I saw a large round horizontal hole right through a comparatively small cloud. Needless to say, I flew through it and was astonished to find how much it improved the view of the landscape beyond, where the dull monotony of the country was relieved by the patches of shadow from the pure white clouds floating over it.  ”

Oscar,  2nd left. Larkhill, England.

Oscar Grieg was a Captain in the fledgling Royal Flying Corps. Flying over four hundred hours during combat at a time when the average life expectancy of a pilot was a mere fifty. In 1917 he was shot down by the Red Baron, a renowned German fighter Ace.

Surviving the crash, Oscar became a prisoner of war, before embarking on one final great adventure. Escaping from his prisoner of war camp in 1918, he walked across the Alps  and back to England, from Poland, in time for Christmas.

I hope to share with you more of his life in the future. He was a most brave and interesting man.

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