ADA-Arrow Pilots:Peter Cope
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Arrow Pilots:Peter Cope
Peter Cope: 
Peter Roland Cope was born in Croydon, England on December
7, 1921, and thus shares a birthday that with the date
that now lives in infamy, for its being the day of the
Pearl Harbour attack in 1941.  As a boy, he developed
an intense interest in aviation as Croydon was then the
location of London’s main airport.  At a young
age he became determined to make a career in the Royal
Air Force, hopefully as a flier, after completing college.
The fact of Britain being at war with the Axis as of September,
1939 forced a change in his career plans.  He enlisted
in the RAF and, due to the pressures on pilot training
in the UK, exascerbated by the Battle of Britain and the
Blitz, was sent to the United States for pilot training
in 1941.   As such, Cope learned to fly with
the U.S. Army Air Corps in the American Deep South.  After
successful training at Craig Field, Alabama, he was bestowed
with the coveted silver wings of a USAAC pilot on May 16,
1942.  Thus his RAF battle dress perhaps became an
intriguing symbol of the new wartime alliance between the
United States and Britain. 
He flew North American P-51s, Hawker Tempests, de Havilland
Mosquitos and other types during WW II and went through
the Empire Test Pilot school in Britain.  After returing
to England and completing advanced fighter trainin, he
was posted to 170 Sqn., RAF.  Here he undertook operations
on another symbol of allied cooperation; the P-51A Mustang,
designed and built in the United States for Britain’s
express (and immediate) needs, over a 143 day period by
North American Aviation. 
      Peter flew low level combat reconnaissance missions in
the fabled Mustang, as Flight Lieutenant and later as Acting
Squadron Leader, photographing all kinds of targets in
Hitler’s Festung Europa, or Fortress Europe.  Due
to the early Mustang 1s (or P-51As) being powered by the
non-supercharged American Allison engine, this series of
the fighter only allowed the Mustang to show its high-speed
potential at low level, before receiving the US license-produced
version of the engine in Britain’s top fighters and
bombers, the Rolls Royce Merlin.  The aircraft Peter
flew initially carried six 50 calibre machine guns, an
armament that seemed very potent in its effects compared
with the early British Hurricanes and Spitfires.  It
certainly seemed dramatic in effect to a 20 year old bearing
down on trains and other military targets in France and
the Low Countries at near record speeds—often below
treetop height, while attempting to accurately bring guns
to bear.  This represented the secondary aspect of
his duties, his primary responsibilities included navigating
at extremely low-level, often under very low cloud ceilings
in dubious weather, to arrive a very specific destinations
at precise moments in time, to bring his ‘primary
armament’ (consisting of oblique and look-down cameras)
to bear at the proper angle and height. To provide crystal
clear photos of Nazi installations and formations these
fighting ‘pilot-navigators’ faced the added
demand of handling the aircraft very smoothly, at the time
that the enemy would be concentrating any available guns
of their own what amounted to Britain’s belligerent
spying eye. 
    Cope’s reconnaissance photography
was consistently of high-calibre.  When he received
a new Mustang with armament of considerably higher calibre
than the A model carried (four 20mm cannon vs. six .50
cal.), he has related experiencing a somewhat enhanced
effect when brought accurately to bear.  Returning
from a photo assignment one day a train came into view
ahead of Peter and he gave the engine a long blast of cannon
fire.  The very next day he was returning again on
the same track and saw the train was where he had attacked
it, with the wheels and other heavy steel casting shattered
and broken from his fire.
Peter served what amounted to three consecutive combat tours
of duty before the administrative system caught up with
him and posted him to training duties.  On the intellectual
level Cope justified his ‘overtime’ on photo-recce
operations because he felt, obviously with the support
of his immediate superiors, he was making an excellent
contribution to the war effort—otherwise squadron
staff officers would have ensured his normal rotation.
As a young flying enthusiast however, he was certainly
enjoying some of the more visceral aspects of riding over
1,000 horsepower at 400 mph, aquiring intelligence that
helped the Allies plan and execute the defeat of Naziism,
with the bonus of being able to take out his share of Nazi
forces in more direct ways.
Since Cope had demonstrated particular skill in ground
attack, he was posted to various operational training units,
where he earned the Pilot Attack Instructor qualification
on aircraft such as the Spitfire, while teaching the boys
how to shoot and blow the right things up.   Peter’s
ability is indicated by his gaining the specialist qualification
for armament development.  On these postings Cope
was moved around a considerable amount as the RAF appears
to have wanted to spread his particular expertise around. 
Copyright 2005, Randall Whitcomb.
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