Major Willy Coppens – The Belgian Balloon Buster 1892 / 1986
Coppens was born in Watermael Boitsfort, the son of Omer Coppens, a Belgian Impressionist Painter who studied at the Ghent Royal Academy.
He was conscripted in to the army in 1912, to serve in the 1st Grenadiers, In 1914, following the German invasion of Belgium, Coppens transferred to the Motor Machine Gun Corps.
In early September 1915, he signed up for flight training with the Compagnie des Aviateurs, Due to inefficiencies in the Belgian training. He took eight weeks leave to train to fly, he and 39 fellow Belgians came to England at their own expense to learn to fly. He received his Pilots certificate on the 9th December 1915.
After his training in Britain, he received further training at the Farman School in Etampes, France. He joined the Belgian 6eme Escadrille as a Sergent 1st class on the 8th of April 1917, flying BE2c Two Seaters. Later that month he was assigned to 4eme Escadrille to fly a Farman Pusher. On the 1st of May 1917, he received a Sopwith 11/2 Strutter which he promptly used in Aerial combat.
In mid July He transferred to the 1ere Escadrille de chasse, a fighter sqdn. He was assigned the last remaining Nieuport 16, all the other pilots had upgraded to the Nieuport 17. When Hanriot HD1’s were offered to the Esc. he was the only pilot initially to fly one. Due to his enthusiasm for the aircraft many of his colleagues also took to them. The Hanriot was a French machine but it was used primarily by the Belgians and Italians.
On the 19th of August 1917, Coppens was promoted to Adjutant, he continued his nervy but unsuccessful combat career against enemy Aircraft. But on the 17th of March 1918 he carried out his first attack on German Observation Balloons although handicapped by a lack of Incendiary ammunition he still managed to down two German Balloons.
A legend was about to be born! to be continued!
(C) Damian Grange 2018