|Curtiss Aeroplane Company WWI production facility
[See additional photographs here.]
Imagine: It’s over 100 years ago. You are 18 years old, maybe 17, you are an Irish-American, and your country has just entered the “Great War” (as it was called before a second world war came about) as an ally of England, Ireland’s old enemy. You are not enthusiastic about being on England’s side, but you love the U.S.A., so when your draft number is called, you sign up for and are accepted into pilot training, fully expecting – and prepared -- to die for your country.
So begins the story of T.C. Corbett’s experience of military aviation, edited by his son, Wiilliam, and drawn from his father’s journals, written stories, and an unfinished novel. T.C., or Cy, worked for the Chicago Tribune, in various capacities, for over two decades, and retired to Michigan in 1944, where he lived until age 80.
Cy Corbett’s fatalistic expectation of dying as a pilot was not unrealistic. Bill Corbett tells me that one out of 20 U.S. Army trainees lost their lives in flight school accidents, so a flyboy didn't have to go overseas to die, although the odds did not improve all that much with training completed, with one source giving the rate of trained pilots killed in crashes as one in eighteen.
The Standard was a biplane with a too-large wing spread. Struts separated the wings vertically. And crossed guy wires lifted up slightly from the body in a thing called a dihedral, and for safety there was an inch or so of play in the rigging of the wings to the fuselage. Planes today are monoplanes with no struts or guying and have an immensely stronger structure with steel longerons. The old Standard with its low horsepower and high wing spread could be buffeted about like a leaf in a storm. And often was. It was a scary machine.
I am only setting the stage here for you to read Cy’s story yourself from the beginning. A young man but a serious student and excellent writer, his own words make the long-ago days of the young man he was, with all the emotions of youth in any era, come alive again on the pages, deepened by thoughtful reflections of the mature man looking back on his life.
I was drawn into T.C. Corbett’s story despite the fact that I am roughly midway through at least three other books, so I know others will be, too.
The Drums of War: An Autobiography
by T.C. Corbett, 1917-1924,
ed. by William A. Corbett
Mission Point Press, paper, illustrated