Prints are signed by the artist and numbered|
16" x 11½" Collector Sized Lithograph....$40
The leading Belgian ace of WW I, Willy Coppens de Houthhulst, was born on July 6, 1882 at Watermael Belgium. The son of a successful artist, Willy was called up for military service in 1912. After several years in the infantry, Willy was able to join the air arm as a pupil pilot in 1915. He went to Britain for his flight training where he met Albert Ball. He earned his wings and returned to Belgium for advanced flight training at Etampes. Finally, he was posted to No. 6 Squadron flying the B.E. 2C on reconnaissance missions. He experienced his first aerial combat in May of 1917 when he survived an attack by four German fighters. Still disappointed about being in a reconnaissance unit, Willy was delighted in 1917 when he was transferred to Fighter Escadrille No. 1 based at Les Moeres airfield. Initially flying Neuport Scouts, the unit was re-equipped with a capable French-made single seat fighter, the Hanriot HD.1. Designed by M. Dupont in 1916, the HD.1 was a single-seat, staggered-wing, biplane powered by a 120-HP Le Rhone rotary engine. The HD.1 had an interesting open fronted cowling, and metal panels reached as far back as the cockpit. In standard configuration the HD.1 was armed with only a single Vickers machine gun, and was capable of 114-MPH. This lack of fire power caused many of the Italian pilots who flew the HD.1, including the top Italian ace to survive the War, to add a second gun. Although generally ignored in France, more than 800 were built for the Italians and more than 100 for the Belgians during WW I. Throughout the winter of 1917-18 Coppens had no meaningful enemy engagements. However, on March 18, 1918 he agreed to attack an enemy balloon. These attacks were not easy because observation balloons were almost always protected by anti-aircraft batteries. His first attack was unsuccessful, and the young pilot learned that he must get special incendiary bullets, if future attacks were to succeed. On April 11 he attained his first victory over a German fighter. In May, Coppens received a very small allocation of incendiary bullets. He decided that he would fire only four bullets at a time, and would fire only from very close range. This formula proved unstoppable for the young pilot who went on to attain 36 more victories during the remainder of 1918, making Coppens clearly the Balloon Buster Extraordinaire. Working in the Houthulst Forest region, Coppens would pounce almost every time the Germans put up an observation balloon. In September of 1918 he was awarded the Legion of Honour from Georges Clemenceau. The balloon busting ace decided to repaint his Hanriot from green to blue, because the original color reminded him of a toy snake. On October 14th, following a successful balloon attack, Coppens was hit with shrapnel. He managed to crash land his aircraft behind his own lines and he was rushed to a hospital where one of his legs was amputated. Coppens continued to fly after the War, and he also served as Belgian Air Attaché in London. He retired to Switzerland at the time the Germans invaded Belgium in 1940.