Brussels-Leopoldstad raid blocked at Givet

translated from 2016 RateOne article :
https://luchtvaartgeschiedenis.be/content/raid-brussel-leopoldstad-strandt-te-givet
 


In the spring of 1928, Edmond Thieffry planned a flight from Brussels to Leopoldville, this time with a Belgian-made aircraft: the ACAZ C2 (O-BAFX). 1600 liters could be refueled on board, giving the all-metal aircraft a range of over 3000 km. The aim was to serve the colony in four stages, via the Spanish coast, Oran (Algeria), Niamey (today's Niger), the Gulf of Guinea and the French Congo, thus creating an airmail route enabling mail to reach its destination in less than eight days.

For this mission, the ZACCO C2 was extensively modified in Alfred Feyens' Woluwe-Saint-Pierre workshop. A more powerful engine was installed: 600 instead of 450 hp. Additional fuel tanks were also fitted, and the aircraft was converted into a three-seater. Warrant Officer Joseph Lang, already familiar with the plane, took charge of all the test flights.

On January 31, 1928, the aircraft was christened at Evere airport by the Duchess of Brabant, in the presence of her husband Prince Leopold and other civil and military authorities. Her name "Princess Astrid" was painted on the side of the engine cowling.

Departure for the Congo was scheduled for early February, but was postponed several times due to bad weather conditions. Finally, at 8 a.m. on March 9, the first leg from Haren took place in the morning, with crew member Edmond Thieffry as commander, warrant officer Lang as pilot and reserve lieutenant Philippe Quersin.

That morning, the crew had requested new weather data. Fog was reported over the Meuse valley, but this should not pose any major problems, as the crew could fly in the fog, or even above it if necessary. The flight route was mapped out over Charleroi, Philippeville, the Mourmelon plains, Dijon, Lyon, Perpignan, along the Spanish coast, then across the Mediterranean off Oran...

When they flew over the airport again after take-off, Quersin had indicated 179° as the direction of flight.

From then on, things went wrong. Thieffry went on to report extensively to ZACCO management about what had happened on the flight, after a controversy had arisen in the press about the raid. His account was therefore published in the press. The following is a shorter version of his account (from L'étoile Belge 1928):

Heading 179° was communicated to the pilot, but to no avail. The aircraft was flying more to the southeast. After insisting several times and specifying a new direction (180°) to correct the error made so far, the pilot ignored this recommendation. Then a new order was given: "Climb south!" As we arrived over Namur the pilot pointed to the Meuse to indicate the direction he wanted to take. The pilot had indicated that he wanted to reach Dijon via Verdun and the Langres plateau. Meanwhile, we were disappearing into the mist, so that not even the banks of the river were visible. Quersin gave me a note saying: "The fog will increase towards the south. Watch out for Langres!"

That's why I ordered the pilot to gain more altitude with the warning, "If you don't climb, we'll crash into the hills." The intention was to rise above the fog layer. Since the altimeter wasn't moving and I suspected the pilot wasn't managing to gain altitude, I wrote a note: "Turn around, we're going to ...", and just then, a dark mass appeared in front of us. It was a wooded hill facing us. The pilot reflexively pulled back on the stick, and the plane barely had the strength to avoid the obstacle.

The order to turn back was finally carried out, even though I realized that the way back was almost impossible. The fog had thickened. Another hill was flown low over the trees. A dark curtain surrounded the crew like a shroud. I realized we were in real mortal danger and gave the order: "Formal order to land at the first clearing!". With the pilot slightly out of the flow, we suddenly emerged from a low cloud cover over a beautiful plain along the road from Vodelée to Gochenée (about five kilometers from the French border). The landing was made on this site. After a few meters, the landing gear collapsed under the weight of the heavily-laden aircraft. The aircraft, unable to maintain a straight trajectory, dragged its lower wing along the ground. The crew was unhurt.

This is Commander Thieffry's story in a nutshell. The whole enterprise would be hampered by the fact that pilot Lang was accused of not following his superior's orders. We won't dwell on what happened next. But it must be said that Lang was an experienced pilot who, among other things, had won the first two aerobatic prizes at the Mont-Saint-Michel international meeting in 1921, ahead of French and British pilots.

After the unsuccessful landing at Vodelée, the Acaz C2 was taken back to Brussels by train. Edmond Thieffry had indicated that he would make another attempt with the Acaz C2, provided certain improvements were made, such as reinforcing the landing gear. The aircraft was probably repaired, but nothing is known of subsequent flights, except that the Acaz C2 was probably sold to SEGA (Société des Entreprises Générales d'Aéronautique) in 1929.

Edmond Thieffry made another unsuccessful attempt shortly afterwards, with an RSV 22-180.


Sources:
La Conquête de l'Air, mars 1928
Willems Jacques : Construction aéronautique à Zeebrugge