Ground Crew Operations

During the Great War, Ack Emma’s (mechanics) would perform pre-flight inspections, service the aeroplane, pressurize the fuel system, and test run the engine before each flight. Once the aircrew had climbed aboard, two Ack Emma’s would lay their bodies across the fuselage just in front of the empenage to hold the tail down, one would be stationed to hold each wingtip, while another two would assist with engine starting. If it was necessary to taxi, the wingtip Ack Emma’s would run beside the aeroplane to assist with steering. A typical ground crew of the time would contain at least six members and frequently more.

Today, with the proper equipment and well-trained personnel that understand all the procedures, signals and safety precautions, we’re able to safely operate with a minimum of two ground crew (although more trained hands make for lighter work).

Pre-Flight: Once it has been inspected and serviced, the aeroplane is moved into position for take-off and chocked (early aeroplanes should not be taxied unless absolutely necessary, as it significantly increases the risk of structural damage).

Starting Procedure: The person propping the engine should be tall enough to comfortably reach the propeller when it is cocked at the 10 and 4 o’clock position, strong enough to quickly pull the engine through and past its’ compression stroke, and sufficiently nimble to move out of the way of the moving propeller (requires not only ability, but special training). The person designated as the fireguard stands by with a Halon extinguisher, with a clear view into the engine cowling. The beginning of this video demonstrates propping the engine.

Ground Crew for Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter
Two wingmen, safety officer, prop starter and fire guard.

Post-Landing: Once the aeroplane has landed and stopped, a special dolly is placed under the tail skid to steer while a vehicle tows (or the ground crew pushes) the aeroplane back to the hangar.

Modified dolly for tail skid to steer Sopwith Strutter
Towing Sopwith Strutter is easy on the groundcrew

Check out our video showing pre-flight and starting procedures here.