The Eagle and the Hawk

The Eagle and the Hawk

During the early stages of the First World War, French pilots often took bricks aloft on their observation flights. When passing a German plane (which was usually on a similar mission), they would hurl bricks at the enemy aircraft, hoping to hit the opponent's propeller. Not surprisingly, the German pilots frequently retaliated.

Several of these early observation planes were actually brought down by the thrown bricks, but there is no record of the damage done to structures on the ground by bricks that missed their targets.

For some reason the brick dogfights led the French high command to decide to train eagles to attack the slow—moving German aircraft during the early stages of the war. The idea was to get the eagle to rush at the plane, which, being somewhat fragile, could easily be bought down along with the sacrificial bird. An entire series of plans was drawn up, but for practical reasons they were later abandoned.

Implausible as it may seem, the fact is eagles have always been prone to attack slow—moving aircraft, and several cases in which the attacking eagle was successful have been recorded. In this connection it should be remembered that an eagle can weigh up to fifteen pounds and can dive at a speed approaching 200 miles per hour.

In the late 1940s a three—motored plane was attacked by two eagles simultaneously. One flew straight into the middle engine while the other dived from 10,000 feet and went through the metal wing like a rock. A great hole was ripped in the wing, and the aircraft crashed.

Perhaps the most remarkable incident of birds versus machine was a dogfight between an eagle and a Fiat fighter plane during the Italo—Abyssinian War. Screaming as if to announce the attack, an eagle dived on the plane, forcing it to take evasive maneuvers. The eagle and the "hawk" flew around and around, jockeying for position; occasionally the pilot got off a burst of machine—gun fire, but never on target. The bird made a sudden dive straight at the plane, smashed the windshield, and struck the pilot on the head. The plane went into a tailspin and crashed. The incident is well recorded, because the pilot managed to survive the most unusual dogfight in history!

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth