Name: Willy Omer
François Jean Coppens de Houthulst
Service: Belgian Air Service
Escadrilles: 1ère, 4me, 6me, 9me
Date Of Birth: July 6, 1892
Place of Birth: Watermaal-Bosvoorde
Date Of Death: December 21, 1986
Coppens joined the army in 1912, serving with the 2nd
Grenadiers before transferring to the Compagnie des Aviateurs in
1914. At his own expense, he and thirty nine other Belgians
enrolled in a civilian flying school at Hendon, England. After
additional training in France, Coppens began flying two-seaters in
combat during 1916.
The following year, he was assigned to single-seat fighters and
soon became an expert at shooting down enemy observation balloons.
After downing a balloon, Coppens would often perform aerial
acrobatic displays above the enemy. On one occasion, the balloon
he was attacking shot upward and Coppens actually landed his
Hanriot HD.1 on top of it. Switching off his engine to protect the
propeller, he waited until his aircraft slid off the top of the
balloon, then restarted the engine and watched as the German
balloon burst into flames and sank to the ground.
On the morning of October 14, 1918, his days as a fighting
pilot came to an end near Throurout in northwestern Belgium. Just
as he began the attack that would culminate in his 37th victory,
Coppens was hit in the left leg by an incendiary bullet. Despite a
severed artery and intense pain, he shot down his target and
managed to crash land within the safety of his own lines. His
badly shattered leg had to be amputated. Before he retired from
the army in 1940, Coppens served as a military attaché in France,
Great Britain, Italy and Switzerland.