In a poignant scene of 1933 WWI film The Eagle and the Hawk (not to be confused with the same-name 1950 western film), while the pilot played by Fredric March performs a loop-the-loop in his – I believe – Airco DH.9 (is that correct?) to evade a German opponent, his observer/gunner falls out of his place and plunges to the ground (he had already been hit and probably killed by the German, but the pilot wasn't aware of it, so this is a real trauma for him).

See the scene here, starting from about 57:25.

Besides the dramatic value of this scene within the narrative, would such a fall as the gunner's be realistic? If those aircraft were capable of such manoeuvres, wouldn't the crew be somehow secured?

  • $\begingroup$ The plummeting observer casts a vast shadow across the landscape - it's like watching Gulliver fall onto Lilliput. $\endgroup$ Sep 11, 2019 at 23:52

1 Answer 1


A loop is about 3G on the initial pull, declining to maybe half a G over the top, then increasing to 3G on the pull out. If you go in at the proper entry speed etc and you want to make it reasonably round. If you release enough back pressure to go even slightly negative over the top, whatever is unsecured falls out (as well as all the crap on the floor coming up into your face, and, if carbureted, the engine quitting momentarily). All it would take is a little push on the stick while rounding the stop, for whatever reason.

Observers weren't strapped in because they had to be free to move around to do their thing.

So that scene is perfectly plausible.

  • $\begingroup$ And in addition, the op's statement that the aircraft would maintain 1 G throughout betrays a misunderstanding or misconception of the physics involved. An wings level aircraft at one G will not change it's pitch attitude. The force of gravity and the Lift on the wings are equal at one G, so the nose position or flight path angle will not change. To increase it you must pull back on the stick and increase Lift, (thereby increasing the Load-Factor (G) to something greater than 1G). $\endgroup$ Sep 11, 2019 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, @CharlesBretana, I have amended the text of the question. $\endgroup$
    – DaG
    Sep 11, 2019 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ @DaG, not to be nit-picky, but the statement "at least 1 G" is still wrong. It should be " at least -1 G", as the answer by John K states. At the top of the loop the total G on the aircraft is, (as it always is) the vector sum of the aircraft G plus "God's" G, and as long as this vector sum remains pointed down, the aircraft will continue in a circle. The only way the aircraft might not continue turning towards the earth at the top of a loop is if the pilot pushes forward on the stick to establish -1 or greater negative G. $\endgroup$ Sep 11, 2019 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ It should just be "positive G", meaning centrifugal force still acting toward the floor of the aircraft . At the top of a loop you are normally less than 1, but need to stay more than 0. You will get quite close to zero G if you have to, to maintain a rounded top. You ease off the back pressure over the top in a way that gives a constant pitch rate (or you try to) as the inverted horizon is coming through and you may ease off to nearly 0G, or ballistic, in doing this but you have to careful to not quite go that far. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Sep 11, 2019 at 20:12

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