A resin bust of an RFC officer of the Balloon Observation Corps
During WW1 the use of observation balloons was widespread along both sides of the Western Front. The observer would be in a wicker basket suspended under the balloon which would be floated to high behind the front lines. He was able to see distant enemy targets and relay their positions to artillery on the ground as well as reporting on the accuracy ofartillery fire.
They were normally Royal Artillery officers attached to the Royal Flying Corps for the observation duties.
Although the balloons were heavily protected by anti-aircraft guns and possibly aircraft they were a tempting stationary target for enemy aircraft.
The shooting down of an observation balloon was regarded as a valid target and added to a pilot’s list of ‘kills’ in the same manner as enemy aircraft. Some pilots established reputations as ‘balloon busters’ – the Belgian Willy Coppens’ total of 35 was the highest of the war.
Because of this high risk, ‘balloonatics’ were allowed to wear parachutes, which were very primitive. The main canopy was in a bag attached to the balloon, with the pilot only wearing a simple harness with lines attached to the main parachute in the bag. When the balloonist jumped, the parachute was automatically pulled from the bag; the shroud lines first, followed by the main canopy.
Observations were passed down via the use of flags or radio, with observers remaining in the air for hours at a time.
Keeping warm was a significant concern so observers wore whatever clothing was available, often wearing the leather flying coats used by pilots. This bust has the ‘balloonatic’ is wearing his Service Dress over which he wears the cotton parachute harness. He also wears the ‘Cor Blimey’ hat which was more popular than the flying helmet because it gave sufficient warmth with the additional benefit of eye shade from the peak.
Communication with the ground was via the earphones and microphone.
Lengths of twisted wire are included in the kit to replicate the headset wires.