World War I Aviation

From Academic Kids

Nieuport Fighter , France 1917
Nieuport Fighter Aisne, France 1917

The Early Years of War

The early years of war saw canvas-and-wood aircraft used primarily to function as mobile observation vehicles. This was an improvement over the vulnerable Zeppelin and the immobile observation balloon. Enemy pilots at first exchanged waves and later progressed to throwing bricks and other objects (grenades and sometimes rope, which they hoped would tangle their enemy's propellor), which eventually progressed to guns. Once the guns were mounted to their planes, the era of air combat began.

Like most other technologies during wartime, the aircraft underwent many improvements (though it might be argued that the most drastic changes occurred during the so-called "Golden Age of Flight" in the between-wars period of the 1920s and 1930s). To appreciate the sense of these improvements, compare designs such as the infamous Fokker Dr. 1 with early war aircraft, whose designs were not much different from the original unstable Wright Flyer, which took its first flight over a decade earlier.

Aircraft of this early period included the Maurice Farman "Shorthorn" and "Longhorn", D.F.W. BI, Rumpler Taube, B.E. 2a, A.E.G. BII, Bleriot XI, and the Penguin.

With limited power, aircraft engines could only afford a certain amount of weight and, though made of mostly canvas and wood, could only afford to be monoplanes (one-winged). Another major limitation was the early mounting of machine guns, which was awkward due to the position of the propeller. Since the pilot usually sat behind the propellor, it was natural to have the gun mounted between the two, but this would make the gun fire through the propellor. Frenchman Roland Garros attempted to solve this problem by attaching metal deflectors to the blades of his propellor, which he hoped would deflect the bullets rather than splinter the wood propellor. However, this was an inadequate - and somewhat dangerous - solution. Therefore, the best remedy at the time was to mount the gun above the propeller. In the monoplanes this resulted in a few more wires that had to be strung from the wings to the gun in order to keep the gun steady.

Yet mounting the gun like this became a problem when the gun needed reloading or had jammed - the pilot must reach up to the gun to service it.

By this time in the war the aircraft had become more than a mobile observatory - it was now a weapon. Dog fights erupted in the skies between the powers - planes went down in flames and heroes were born. The need grew for a better plane, as well as better gun armament. And this was not limited to the air - on the ground, methods were being used that were introduced before the war to deter enemy planes from observation and bombing. Artillery rounds were shot into the air and clouds of smoke and shrapnel, called flak, provided enemy aircraft with an obstacle course to fly around.

Anti-aircraft artillery were used around key strategic targets - airdromes (air bases) and observation balloons mainly. As observation balloons became frequent targets of the enemy, the sites were heavily armed with anti-aircraft artillery. The canvas bags full of hot air were all but defenseless; they were easy to shoot down, especially once pilots started arming their planes with incendiary bullets.

And now new innovation was needed. The aircraft had advanced from the fragile Wright-like designs of the early war years to the more stable and better-designed biplanes including the D.H.-2 (1915-Britain) and the Caudron G-III (1915-France). The former was a forward-firing aircraft with a propellor positioned in the rear of the plane, behind the pilot, allowing the gun to be accessible to the pilot for in-flight repair and reloading (this so-called "pusher" plane design enjoyed a brief period of popularity during 1914-1915). The drawback was that the plane was unstable and not very manueverable.

The Fokker Scourge

Yet these planes were no match to the Fokker E-I (1915-Germany), a plane with a propellor in front and a gun mounted directly behind it. The gun was actually made to physically be linked through gears to the propellor in order to fire through the propellor blade intervals, an ingenious solution provided by Anthony Fokker, the man behind the plane. In 1915 the Fokker E-I was top-of-the-line in design, manueverability, and gun placement. The result was devastating for the Allied powers, and a solution was needed fast.

The Fokker E-I's foil came in the form of the Nieuport 17 (1916-France), a biplane with a propellor in front and, as needed, a gun placed directly behind the propellor. No doubt the Allies by this time had managed to shoot down at least one E-I, as tough a task as it was, and had dissected and copied its inner-workings.

Bloody April

(Main Article) During the First World War, the month of April 1917 was known as Bloody April by the Allied air forces. The Royal Flying Corps suffered losses so severe it came close to being annihilated. In April the Allies launched a joint offensive with the British attacking near Arras in Artois, northern France, while the French Nivelle Offensive was launched on the Aisne and the air forces were called on to provide support, predominantly in reconnaissance and artillery spotting. Template:Sect-stub

The Final Years of War



Bombers were introduced to replace the more vulnerable Zeppelin.

The most famous and successful bombers of the war were the Gotha G's, which conducted bombing raids on London. Though it has been agreed that the most damage done by them was to British morale, which took a devastating turn at the thought that the bombers could so easily penetrate defenses.

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Famous Aces (With number of victories)

(Complete list: List of World War I flying aces)

Australia (serving under Britain)


Canada (serving under Britain)

Ireland (serving under Britain)




United States

Famous Aircraft

(Listed by location of manufacturing and first year in service)
(Also see category for World War I aircraft)

Central Powers Allied






United States:

See also

External links

Italian Aircraft:



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