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Aces of Aviation

Royal Aircraft Factory BE2a of Charles Rumney Samson

Royal Aircraft Factory BE2a of Charles Rumney Samson

Royal Aircraft Factory BE2a of the RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service) Eastchurch Squadron, piloted by Wing Commander Charles Rumney Samson in 1915.

Wingspan: 10.68 meters.

Length: 9.00 meters.

Height: 3.73 meters.

Engine[s]: Renault of 70 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 113 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 3050 meters.

Range: 3 hours.

Armament: One bomb or equivalent of 45 kilograms.

The most dynamic and influential of pioneers of the British naval aviation, Charles Rumney Samson was as well an extravagant, intrepid and skilled pilot whose deeds and raids in the first months of the First World War were subject of countless anecdotes that became legendary in the field of aviation. Born near Manchester in 1883, he could have led a life of corsair in the sea as in the antique times if the aviation, which caused fascination to him from 1910-11, had not appeared in that time. He was a 28-year old Lieutenant of the Royal Navy when he learned to fly by piloting a Short biplane in Eastchurch. Thanks to his argumentations, the Admiralty acceded to create a Naval Flight School in Eastchurch in 1911. The following year, Samson was appointed Commander of the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps.

The outbreak of the First World War caused the transfer to Ostend of the Eastchurch Squadron commanded by Samson, which comprised two BE, two Blériot, one Bristol TB-8, one Farman Short number 42 and two Sopwith. One of the first mentioned, a BE2a marked with the number 50, was the airplane chosen by Samson to pilot himself.

Obeying orders from Winston Churchill, the Eastchurch Squadron flew to Antwerp to attack the Zeppelin hangars in Düsseldorf. The BE2a number 50 was one of the airplanes sent there, very much to Samson's regret, who feared to not see it again. However, after the fall of Antwerp the BE2a number 50 was returned to Dunkirk, where the Eastchurch Squadron had its operations base. Armed with a rifle of incendiary bullets and light bombs, Samson effectuated numerous raids in enemy positions in Ostend, Zeebrugge and Middelkerke, as well as occasional attacks against German dirigibles. He performed these flights as the sole crew member, with the fore cockpit occupied by a large tank for additional fuel.

Called to return to England in February 1915, Samson received the order to transfer the Eastchurch Squadron to the Dardanelles. He arrived to Tenedos in the late March with a certain number of Farman airplanes and his beloved BE2a number 50. Since then he removed the supplementary fuel tank from the fore cockpit, and when he enlisted as spotter for the naval artillery he usually carried an observer with him. He continued manning his BE2a number 50 for many months, and in September he effectuated raids in Berghaz Liman and Kilia Liman.

On the late part of the war, Samson was in command of the famous seaplane carrier HMS Ben-My-Chree in operations in the Syrian coast and, occasionally, as Wing Commander, he was in command of the aeronaval station at Great Yarmouth.