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On December 17, 1903, two bicycle manufacturers from Dayton, Ohio, stood on a windy beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and tossed a coin.  While the winner, Orville Wright, positioned himself inside a flimsy machine, made of wood and cloth, his brother Wilbur started up their homemade gasoline engine.  Moments later, the rickety contraption rolled along a metal guide rail, then, as it gained speed, it left the ground and flew about ten feet above the sand for twelve seconds, covering a distance of 120 feet.

The age of flight had begun.

A new type of combat had also been born, though the world’s leading military establishments were not quick to see it.

It wasn’t until 1909 that the first military airplane was flown; the Wright Military Flyer could hold two people and carry them aloft for an hour, at a speed of 40 miles per hour.  The US Army used the airplanes for aerial reconnaissance.

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Wright Military Flyer

Although the first workable airplane had been produced in the United States, however, the most advanced work in aeronautics was done in France.  In the years immediately following the Wright brothers’ flight, so many airplanes were being designed and flown in France, by people like Alberto Samos-Dumont, Gabriel Voisin, Louis Bleriôt, and Henri Fabré, that most modern aeronautical terms (such as “fuselage”, “aileron” and “nacelle”) are of French origin.

On July 25, 1909, Bleriôt flew a Model XI version of his airplane across the English Channel from France to Britain, and military leaders around the world were forced to realize that, in future wars, not even an island surrounded by the world’s strongest Navy was immune to being reached by a potential enemy.  

That future war was only five years away, and, though no one knew exactly when it would happen, everyone knew it was coming.  France was still smarting from its defeat in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, and was looking for a chance to regain its lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.  The newly unified Germany wanted to build a global empire equal to France and Britain’s.  The British, whose imperial interests had long been in conflict with France’s, now found themselves sharing a common interest with their former rival, as both France and Britain sought to prevent German gains at their expense.  Germany’s ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was wracked by ethnic strife and internal divisions—a situation that was watched carefully by Tsarist Russia, which had its own territorial ambitions in the Balkans.

The breaking point came on June 28, 1914, when a Serbian nationalist student shot and killed Franz Joseph Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary.  With the support of Germany, Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia in retaliation.  Russia, in turn, mobilized its army to defend Serbia, Germany  then attacked France, and Britain sent military forces to defend its allies.  Within weeks, the Central Powers, consisting of Germany and Austria-Hungary, faced off against the Triple Entente Allies, made up of France, Britain and Russia.  It was the war that everyone expected, and that everyone had already been planning for. Both sides were confident of victory, and both sides assumed that the war would be over before Christmas.

The German war strategy, known as the Schlieffen Plan, called for a large German army to avoid French border defenses by charging around them through Belgium, then driving on Paris to take France out of the war.  For the Central Powers, surrounded on both sides by the Entente, it was imperative that France be knocked out of the war quickly, before the Russian army could fully mobilize.  With France defeated, the Germans could then turn their full military power against Tsarist Russia.

The invasion of Belgium took place in the first week of August 1914.  By September, German troops were within thirty miles of Paris, and it seemed as if the defeat of France was imminent.  On September 6, however, French observation planes detected a gap between two German armies, and, in the “Miracle of the Marne”, French and British troops poured into the gap and drove the Germans back over forty miles.  Paris was saved.  Within weeks, the German army dug itself in, constructing a string of defensive trenches that stretched, unbroken, from the Swiss border all the way across Europe to the English Channel.  The French and British also dug their own trench system, which was, in most places, 200-300 yards from the German lines (at some places, though, such as the Vimy Ridge, the opposing trenches were less than 30 yards apart).  Far from being a quick and easy victory, the “Great War” settled into a deadlocked stalemate that would last for four long bloody years.

The defensive trenches soon became intricate and complex, with two or three trenchlines, one behind the other, connected by shorter communications trenches. A typical trench was about seven feet deep and four feet wide.  The sides of the trenches were reinforced with wooden planks, sandbags, or wire mesh.   At the front of the trench, a parapet of sandbags was built up, with small gaps called “loopholes” which allowed soldiers to stand on a “firing step” and shoot at the enemy.  At intervals, a firing position made of sandbags was also placed for a new weapon, the machine gun.  Designed in the United States, the Maxim machine gun was used by both sides.  With overlapping fields of fire, the machine guns could cover the entire front, even if some of them were knocked out.  Extensive tangles of barbed wire prevented enemy troops from crossing the “No Man’s Land” between the opposing trenches. The Germans were particularly good at building “defenses in depth”, in which a second entire defensive network of trenches would be built a mile or two behind the first, allowing troops to regroup there and counterattack if the primary trench network were captured.

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Trench warfare

Sheltered within these extensive underground networks, the defender had an overwhelming advantage against any attacker.  The Germans, who were in occupied territory, took a defensive strategy, digging in firmly to oppose British and French efforts to dislodge them.  The Entente generals had no experience with this new kind of trench warfare, but, knowing that it was up to them to drive the Germans out, desperately resorted to massive “human wave” attacks, throwing thousands of troops across No Man’s Land to try to penetrate the German defenses.  Usually, these attacks were preceded by a massive artillery bombardment, which was intended to destroy the German trenches and kill everyone in them, but which were instead ineffective against the German troops in their trenches and deep dugouts.  In attack after attack, the British “tommies” and French “poilu” charged across the cratered shell-pocked landscape, only to be hung up on the barbed wire and mowed down by the German machine guns.  The Germans tried to break the stalemate with poison gas, a tactic which was quickly adopted by the British and French.  It didn’t help.  On the first day of the massive British attack on the Somme in 1916, almost 20,000 soldiers were killed by German machine guns.  Attack was followed by counter-attack.  Even during “quiet” periods, some 5,000 men were killed or wounded every day, from snipers, reconnaissance raids, or random artillery shells.  And through it all, the battle front never moved by more than a few hundred yards.  It was slaughter on a scale that the world had never seen before.

The Entente generals needed all the help they could get to find a way through the German trenches.  The first weapon they turned to was artillery.  During the Franco-Prussian War just 40 years earlier, artillerymen were still using cannons.  By 1914, though, artillery had developed into an extremely effective killer.  The old cannons were limited by their recoil, which knocked the cannon out of position and necessitated re-aiming after each shot.  The modern breech-loading howitzers of 1914, however, could absorb the recoil without moving, allowing gunners to consistently pound the same spot again and again.  One problem remained, though.  The old cannons were aimed entirely by sight.  The new artillery, however, had such long ranges that the gunners often could not see where their shells were landing, making it impossible for them to adjust their fire for greater accuracy.

It was the French expertise in aeronautics that helped solve the problem, and the earliest stage of aerial warfare centered around reconnaissance and artillery spotting.  Unarmed two-seater airplanes began to regularly fly over enemy trenches—the observer in the rear seat would photograph them and provide critical information for planning ground attacks, as well as giving advance warning of enemy troop movements and imminent attacks. Observation planes were also used as aerial artillery spotters, watching the shells fall and, using a wireless Morse code transmitter, advising gunners on corrections to their aim, allowing intense and accurate bombardments of enemy positions with pinpoint accuracy.

At first, aerial observation was a tranquil affair.  Opposing pilots would often wave to each other as they passed by, each on the way to photograph the other’s trenches.  It quickly became apparent, however, that it was a huge military advantage to prevent the other side from observing one’s trenches.  Rear-seat observers soon began carrying pistols and rifles to take potshots at each other, and it wasn’t long before light machine guns (like the British Lewis gun) were mounted at the rear of the plane for the observer to use against enemy reconnaissance flights.  By 1915, both sides began designing single-seat “scout” planes, which were specifically intended to seek out and shoot down enemy observation planes, and to defend their own spotters from enemy scouts.  During the war, most aces scored the majority of their aerial victories over enemy two-seat observation planes.  This was not simply because the spotter planes were slow, lumbering, easy targets, but also because they were the most important military targets in the air.

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An aerial observation plane with its machine gun.

Before an effective aerial fighter plane could be produced, however, a puzzle had to be solved.  The simplest way for a solitary pilot to aim his gun was to mount it in line with the fuselage of his airplane, thus allowing him to aim the gun accurately simply by pointing the airplane’s nose at the target.  And since machine guns were prone to jamming and also held a limited amount of ammunition, they had to be physically within the pilot’s reach so they could be reloaded and, if necessary, unjammed.  The best location for this was on the cowling directly in front of the cockpit.

This, however, presented an awkward problem – it put the machine gun directly in line with the whirring propeller, and any pilot who aimed and fired his machine gun at an enemy would be virtually certain to shoot off his own propeller.

 The first pilot to come up with an effective solution was the Frenchman Roland Garros.   Garros attached a light Hotchkiss machine gun to the front of his Morane monoplane, and to prevent it from shooting off his own propeller, he bolted two steel wedges to the back of the blades, deflecting any bullets that might hit them as he was firing.  On April 1, 1915, Garros successfully shot down a German observation plane over British trenches.  Later that day, another French pilot with a modified Morane, Jean Lavarre, also shot down a spotter plane.  

Over the next week, Garros refined his tactics.  Since his Morane airplane was slower than the German biplanes he was chasing, he learned to loiter above the altitude normally taken by the spotters, then, when they passed below him, dive on them from behind to attack before they could speed away.  On April 11, Garros intercepted two German spotter planes and shot them both down.  They were his fourth and fifth aerial victories, making Garros the first fighter ace in history.

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Roland Garros, the first fighter ace.

Less than a week after achieving ace status, though, Garros developed engine trouble while flying over German trenches and was forced to land.  Garros was held as a POW until he escaped in early 1918 and made his way back to France.  After a refresher training to learn to handle the newer French fighters, Garros returned to combat.  He was shot down and killed in October 1918, just a month before the war ended.

Garros’s captured Morane monoplane, meanwhile, was turned over to the Dutch aircraft designer Anthony Fokker, who was working for the Germans.  Fokker examined the steel wedges Garros had attached to his propeller blades, and knew that they enabled his plane to fire through the propeller, but Fokker was already working on a better system. His “interruptor gear” used a pronged cam attached to the propeller shaft to push a metal rod attached to the machine gun mechanism, which inactivated the gun whenever a propeller blade was directly in front of the barrel.  Although the pilot could fire the machine gun continuously, the cam would interrupt the fire whenever the propeller was in the way.  

The interruptor gear system was incorporated into Fokker's new Eindekker monoplane, known as the E-1.  Faster than the Morane, the Eindekker was superior to anything the Entente could put into the air.  Its larger more powerful engine allowed it to carry a Spandau machine gun, which was more powerful than the Hotchkiss carried by Garros.  

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The Eindekker.

The E-1 was the first purpose-built fighter plane, and two Eindekkers were placed immediately in combat, one each to pilots Max Immelman and Oswald von Boelcke.   On August 1, 1915, a flight of British BE2c bomber/observer planes attacked the German airfield at Douai, and Immelman and Boelcke took off in their Fokkers to intercept.  Boelcke's gun jammed and he was forced to land, but Immelman shot down one of the BE2c's and damaged another.  

For the rest of 1915, Immelman and Boelcke carried on a friendly rivalry, with each matching the other’s score.  By October, both had scored five aerial victories and reached “ace” status.  On January 12, 1916, both aces scored their eighth victories, and both were awarded the Pour le Merite, the coveted military medal known informally as “The Blue Max”.  Throughout the first half of 1916, improved models of the Eindekker were shooting down so many Entente spotter planes that French and British fliers referred to the period as “The Fokker Scourge”.

Immelman was killed in June 1916, after scoring a total of 15 aerial victories.  He was shot down in combat with a number of British Fe2b’s, though there are some indications that his interruptor gear had malfunctioned and shot off his own propeller.

Although Immelman had gotten most of the attention from the German press (he was known as “The Eagle of Lille”), it was Boelcke who made the most lasting contribution to aerial combat.  A skilled tactician, Boelcke was also a masterful organizer and, more importantly, an instructor.  His observations on aerial combat and organization, known as “Boelcke’s Dicta”, are still taught today to modern jet fighter pilots.  They were:

“1. Each pilot must know about the construction of his aircraft, and the strengths and weaknesses, so that he can get the best out of his machine and avoid getting into situations in which his opponent can exploit the weaknesses of design.    

2.  He must know as much as possible about the strengths  and weaknesses of any enemy aircraft he will likely encounter.    

3.   The pilot must be fully at home in his aircraft as a  result of training and familiarization flights, so that the machine can be exploited fully without conscious thought, the full spectrum of aerial maneuvering being second nature to the pilot.

4.   The pilot must know all about his armament, so that the right range and deflection can be simply selected, and jams and stoppages cleared quickly and without taking his attention away from more pressing matters.  

5.  The pilot must develop the knack of seeing enemy aircraft without himself being seen, developing this knack of spotting opposing aircraft at a considerable range by constant practice in knowing how to search the sky and what to look for.

6. The pilot must acquire the habit of “taking in” unconsciously the general progress of the whole multi-aircraft dogfight going on around the individual combat in which the pilot will become involved, so that a third party entering the duel can be spotted and allowed for, and no time wasted in assessment of the general situation after the end of an individual combat.    

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Oswald von Boelcke

7.  The pilot should become accustomed to flying in a regular position in the formation, so that teamwork will improve and each man will get used to flying with the same companions.    

8.   The pilot must memorize a number of rendezvous points in the area, so that if the formation is split up, lost pilots can pick up the formation again by circling over the rendezvous point just under the clouds (aircraft over clouds being very easy to spot) until rejoined by others of the formation.      

9.   Formation is to be kept at all times, leaving the leader to spot the opposition while the others cover his and each others’ tail by constant vigilance, unless another pilot spots the opposition first and signals the leader by moving ahead and waggling his wings before turning in the direction of the opposition.    

10.  The leader will signal the best method of attack, using all the advantages of sun, cloud, haze, and rain, but always attacks will be from above where possible.

11.  Once combat has been joined in a dogfight, it is every man for himself, but it is essential to keep a cool head and courting disaster to try to evade the attacker by the execution of copybook aerobatics such as loops and half-rolls.    

12.  The use of smooth executed, predictable maneuvers in combat is futile.  One should always turn into the attacker so that a circling combat will ensue; here it is essential to turn as tight as possible to try to close up on the attacker and dispatch him with an accurate burst of machine-gun fire.    

13.  It is insensible to run from a fight with an aircraft of equal performance, unless some tactical consideration gives the pursued a considerable advantage.    

14.  To be avoided at all costs are jinking maneuvers, for the pursuer can always cut across the corner so formed and make up the necessary distance on the pursued aircraft.”

By 1916, the French and British were introducing new fighter planes to combat the Eindekkers.  Although most of the aircraft in World War One were biplanes, the first two successful fighters, the French Morane and the German Eindekker, were both monoplanes. Although the early monoplanes had sufficient lift to carry a pilot, a single machine gun and a small engine, the limitations proved to be too crippling – the small engine didn’t produce enough speed to catch the spotter planes.  All the later fighters from both sides were biplanes, which allowed them to carry bigger engines and more armament.  

The Entente responses to the Fokker Scourge were the Nieuport 11 and the Airco DH-2.  Rather than the interruptor gear system, however, they used two different methods to mount their guns.  The French Nieuport 11, known as “le Bébé”, had a single Lewis light machine gun that was mounted on the upper wing, where it fired above the arc of the propeller, and could be swung back on a hinge, towards the cockpit, for reloading and unjamming.  The British DH-2, by contrast, was a “pusher”, with the engine and propeller located behind the cockpit, allowing the machine gun to be put at the front of the pilot’s nacelle without obstruction.

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The DH-2

With the DH-2 and Nieuport 11 fighters, the British and French outclassed the Eindekker and established air superiority, ending the Fokker Scourge.

In response, in mid-1916, the German air force was re-organized.  Instead of small two- or three-man patrols, German planes were grouped into squadrons called Jagdstaffel, or Jasta.  Because the German forces were outnumbered by the British and French, the use of large squadrons allowed the Germans to move their resources where they were needed and to gain local superiority at important spots. Boelcke, Germany’s highest-scoring ace with 40 victories, was given command of Jasta 2, and was given authority to handpick his own pilots from any other German air unit.  Boelcke then drilled his new pilots (whom he referred to as his “lion cubs”) relentlessly in aerial tactics, and in combat, often flew above them, watching their progress and intervening if they got into trouble.

In September 1916, Boelcke toured the German aviation units along the Eastern Front, looking for talented fliers for his new Jasta 2 squadron.   One of the “lion cubs” he picked was a cavalry officer turned pilot, named Manfred von Richthofen.

Richthofen soon became Boelcke’s star pupil.  On Jasta 2’s first combat flight, on September 17, 1916, Richthofen scored his first officially recognized aerial victory, shooting down a British Fe-2 “pusher” near Verdun.  Within a few weeks, Richthofen was a double ace with ten confirmed victories.  

On October 28, 1916, though, disaster struck Jasta 2.  During a patrol, Boelcke was leading four of his “lion cubs”, including Richthofen, when they saw a flight of six DH-2’s attacking a German spotter plane, and dove to attack.  The DH-2’s were led by Capt. Arthur Knight, a British ace with 8 victories.  During the fight, however, Boelcke and one of his students, Erwin Böhme, both moved towards the same target plane and collided.  Böhme was able to safely crash-land his crippled plane, but Boelcke was killed on impact.  Jasta 2 was renamed Jasta Boelcke in his honor.

Richthofen’s reputation as Boelcke’s star pupil was confirmed on November 23, 1916.  A flight led by Richthofen was escorting a pair of German spotter planes.  When the spotters were attacked by three DH-2’s, Richthofen’s pilots dove to defend them.  The DH-2’s were being led by Major Lanoe Hawker, a British 9-victory ace and a winner of the Victoria Cross, known as the “English Immelman”.  During the melee, Richthofen and Hawker took each other on in a turning fight just a few thousand feet above the ground.  After much maneuvering, Richthofen managed to fire a burst into Hawker’s plane, killing him.  It was his 11th aerial victory.

A month later, on December 20, Richthofen again tangled with Capt. Arthur Knight, and this time managed to shoot him down.  Knight died in the crash.  He was Richthofen’s 13th victory.

Richthofen’s victories over the aces Knight and Hawker were not entirely due to his flying ability, however.  Jasta 2 had been equipped with the new Albatross D2 fighter, which far outclassed the Entente DH-2 and Nieuport 11 fighters, and gave the Germans unquestioned air superiority.  

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The Albatross fighter.

Jasta 11 had its greatest period of success in April 1917, during the Battle of Arras.  The British threw their newest airplane models into the fight, including the Sopwith Pup, the Bristol F2A, the Spad 7, and the Nieuport 17.  None were any match for Richthofen and his pilots.  In just four weeks, Jasta 11 shot down 89 British planes, with Richthofen himself accounting for 22 of those.  The British Royal Air Force referred to the period as “Bloody April”.

In June 1917, the RAF introduced a new plane that became a serious challenge to the German Albatrosses--the Sopwith Triplane.  The Sopwith was maneuverable and had a tremendous rate of climb, which made it a nimble dogfighter, but the increased drag from its three wings made it slower and decreased its range.   The triplane proved itself in combat when a patrol of 6 Albatross D5's led by 30-victory ace Karl Allmenröder encountered a flight of 6 Sopwith Triplanes led by 16-victory British ace Ray Collishaw.  The two aces drifted away from the melee and carried out a one-on-one fight, with Collishaw managing to get behind Allmenröder and shoot him down. The 21-year old Allmenröder was the second-highest scoring German ace at the time, behind Richthofen.  He had been awarded the Pour le Merite only two weeks before.

As the Albatross D series became outclassed by new Entente fighters, the Germans were working on replacements.  Anthony Fokker had been impressed by the performance of the Sopwith Triplane, and in September 1917 he introduced the Fokker Dr1 triplane.  Richthofen received one of the first of the triplanes, and on his first patrol in it, accompanied by 5 Albatrosses, he shot down a Sopwith Pup.  It was his 61st victory, and the first in the airplane that would be inextricably linked with his name.

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The DR1 triplane.

Newer Entente airplanes, however, would soon give air superiority back to the British and French.  On September 21, 1917, while on a solo patrol, Richthofen Circus member Werner Voss, in his Dr1, came across a new British plane, the SE5, that was straggling behind its flight.  The “straggler”, however, turned out to be the bait in an ambush, and Voss was jumped by a flight from James McCudden's squadron—all 7 members of the group were British aces.  Voss flew magnificently and evaded all the British pilots, until something apparently damaged his propeller, allowing 23-victory ace Arthur Rhys-Davies to get behind Voss and shoot him down.  Voss, with 48 victories, had been Richthofen’s closest rival as Germany's greatest ace.  McCudden would later write of this fight, “I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single-handed, fought seven of us for ten minutes.  I saw him go into a fairly steep dive and so I continued to watch, and then saw the triplane hit the ground and disappear into a thousand fragments, for it seemed to me that it literally went into powder.”

Another new biplane introduced by the British was the Sopwith Camel, which would become the most famous airplane of the war and would go on to shoot down more German aircraft than any other fighter.  

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Sopwith Camel

With the introduction of the SE5 and, particularly, the Sopwith Camel, the Germans lost the aircraft superiority they had enjoyed since the Albatross series had been introduced.  Although the aces of the Richthofen Circus had continued success against the new Entente fighters, the SE5 and Camel were, in the hands of a capable pilot, superior to anything the Germans could put in the sky.  The German air service, moreover, was in terrible difficulty.  The English naval blockade, which prevented raw materials and supplies from entering Germany, had crippled German industry and led to shortages and rationing.  Aircraft manufacturing plummeted, spare parts were difficult to obtain, and many German airplanes were flying with instruments cannibalized from shot-down British planes.  In addition, manpower shortages meant that, while elite outfits like Richthofen’s Jasta 11 were superbly trained and equipped, most of the rest of the German air forces were ill-trained and poorly supplied.

Recognizing that the Albatross and Dr1 planes were falling behind the newest Entente fighters in quality, Anthony Fokker began working on a new plane, the Fokker D7.  Richthofen and his pilots provided a wealth of information and advice to Fokker concerning the new plane.

On April 20, 1918, Richthofen's flight of Dr1's attacked a larger group of Sopwith Camels.  Richthofen shot down two of the Camels within minutes.  They were his last aerial victories. The two Camels were Richthofen's 79th and 80th confirmed victories, making him the highest-scoring ace on both sides during the war.  At the end of the war, the highest-scoring surviving ace was the French pilot René Fonck, with 73 victories.

The highest-scoring American ace was Eddie Rickenbacker, with 26 aerial victories (if his score sounds low compared to the others, keep in mind that the German, British and French pilots flew for years, while Rickenbacker was only in combat for six months).

At the time the US entered the war in April 1917, the French Spad 13 was the most effective fighter it had available. Because the Americans had no fighter planes of their own, most American squadrons were outfitted first with old French Nieuport 28’s, then with Spad 13’s.

The new Allied planes--the Camel and the Spad-- gave the Entente air superiority to the end of the war. The Fokker D7, which appeared in the last year of the war, is considered by most experts to be the best fighter produced by any country in the war, but it was produced only in limited numbers, and came too late to return air superiority back to the Germans.

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Fokker D7

By the end of the Great War in 1918, air combat had fully matured with incredible rapidity. At the beginning of the aerial fighting in 1915, the Fokker E1, the first purpose-built fighter, carried one machine gun, had a range of 125 miles, and could reach a top speed of 80 miles per hour.  At the end of the war, just three years later, the Sopwith Camel carried two machine guns, had a range of 300 miles, and reached a top speed of 115 miles per hour.

By 1918, the full range of aerial combat already existed. Specialized fighters like the SE5a, Spad 13, and Fokker D7 carried out the air superiority role. Long-range bombers like the Gotha and the Handley-Paige carried out the strategic bombing role, while the ground-attack role fell to the Sopwith Salamander, with its bombing rack and specially armored cockpit to protect the pilot from ground fire. Specially-trained Sopwith Camel pilots acted as night fighters, and the RE8 carried out the aerial reconnaissance role. The naval role was being filled by aircraft carriers—modified ships with added flight decks. In September 1914, seaplanes from the Japanese carrier Wakamiya struck targets in German-occupied China, while in December 1914, seaplanes from a group of three British carriers bombed a German zeppelin base, and in July 1918, Sopwith Camels launched from HMS Furious attacked another German zeppelin base. The first aircraft carrier with a full-length flight deck was HMS Argus, whose conversion was finished in September 1918.

Dunning_Landing-on_Furious_In_Pup
A Sopwith Pup landing on an early aircraft carrier, 1918

Originally posted to Kossack Air Force on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 01:00 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Hotlisted. (5+ / 0-)

    For some reason, I have always found WWI a fascinating subject.  I'm at work and can't read this closely right now, but it looks like I will have some fun this evening.

    Strength and dignity are her clothing, she rejoices at the days to come; She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue.

    by loggersbrat on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 01:13:39 PM PST

  •  it's a wee bit long . . . (8+ / 0-)

    Sorry about that.

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 01:17:38 PM PST

    •  Don't apologize for length (9+ / 0-)

      Fascinating!


      --
      As through this world I've wandered,
      I've seen lots of funny men;
      Some will rob you with a six-gun,
      Some with a fountain pen.
      -- Woody Guthrie

      by Senor Unoball on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 01:25:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Maybe, but I read every word (7+ / 0-)

      The story moves well, and has good flow.

      .................expect us......................... FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 01:28:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You put a lot of work into this one, we should pay (5+ / 0-)

      you by the hour.

      Rivers are horses and kayaks are their saddles

      by River Rover on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 03:11:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  No, no, it was very good. (7+ / 0-)

      My only kibble is about

      Knowing that it was up to them to drive the Germans out, [The French and British command] desperately resorted to massive “human wave” attacks, throwing thousands of troops across No Man’s Land to try to penetrate the German defenses.
      No.

      It was not out of desperation that French and British generals were launching those wave attacks.

      There was absolutely no military rationale behind those tactics. They were pointless. They achieved strictly nothing except loss of of soldier and equipment, loss of their own soldiers and own equipment.

      Those tactics were used out by the general command out of its utter stupidity and complete contempt for the lives of their own soldiers. They had to prove they were doing something, anything to move the front line and, under pressure from the political authorities, generals ended up in a competition to see which one of them could arrange the worst carnage.

      Simply put, the Allied general corps was composed of the worst blockheads one could imagine doubled of the worst opportunists, as political intrigue and interplay between the general corps and the political class in France (itself fantastically corrupt) was a big part of the story. The notion of "wave attacks" was particularly popular with those politicos who imagined themselves as strategists because it played into the mythology of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It certainly worked great in Valmy and Jena but not against German machine guns.

      As a matter of fact, politics were front and center to explain the overall weakness of the French general corps, for a good part of the competent top level officers had been sidetracked and blacklisted for political reasons during "L'affaire des fiches", ten years before the war. It wasn't as bad as Stalin butchering most of his officers just before the war but nearly as bad. It really thinned the roster and was sorely felt during the war. Mind you, the British weren't much better.

      Finally, it took the ejection of Nivelle and Mangin and the arrival of Petain (who would take a turn for the worst decades later) and of competent but politically disliked generals like Castelnau to put an end to those tactics and for the war to be finally won.

      I deal in facts. My friends are few but fast.

      by Farugia on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 04:37:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  it was often said of the Entente armies that they (9+ / 0-)

        were "lions, led by donkeys".

        When the Americans arrived in 1918, they, being typical Americans, assumed that because they were so much, ya know, BETTER than everyone else, they could succeed where all the others had failed, by golly. So they launched the same sort of human-wave attacks that the Brits and French had in 1916---which of course resulted in the same slaughter.

        That is probably what Churchill had in mind when he later remarked that Americans always do the right thing--after they have tried everything else.

        In the end, reality always wins.

        by Lenny Flank on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 04:46:23 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Calling them donkeys was far too kind.. (5+ / 0-)

          I am forever amazed that the French refrained from sending Robert Nivelle to the firing squad in May 1917. Contrary to what the Brits did to this poor John Byng, it would have been quite well deserved.

          I deal in facts. My friends are few but fast.

          by Farugia on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:23:12 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Chemins des Dames (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, Farugia

            Modern technology comes to our rescue.  One can use
            Google Maps and take the ground view to see what the average French poilu faced when confronting an assault on the German positions at the Chemins des Dames.  Anyone with an eye for terrain can see that an infantry assault across that ground against entrenched positions will yield horrendous casualties.  Unfortunately, the French Third Republic's callous disregard for its citizens' lives in combat during WW1 led to its own demise in WW2 because of the "hollow years" in the draft classes just prior to WW2.  French tactics did improve by the end of the war, starting to resemble the German stosstruppen tactics, and they adopted tanks in a major way, something the Germans never did in WW1.

            "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

            by PrahaPartizan on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 10:43:34 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Good work Lenny (6+ / 0-)

    I've studied and forgotten most of this stuff since I was a teenager.  good read.

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 02:22:10 PM PST

  •  No word about Snoopy? (5+ / 0-)

    I thought he was the greatest of the Allied pilots.

    Also, I understand the parachute was never invented until after the war.  If you were shot down - you were a goner.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 02:43:03 PM PST

    •  yes and no . . . (5+ / 0-)
      Also, I understand the parachute was never invented until after the war.  If you were shot down - you were a goner.
      Parachutes did exist, and they were given to the crews of the observation balloons. But it was felt that if airplane pilots were given parachutes, they would tend to jump right away instead of trying to save the plane, so they weren't issued any.

      Many pilots carried a pistol aloft with them, so if they got shot down in flames they could at last end it quickly instead of burning all the way down . . .

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 02:49:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  ps--the Royal Guardsmen were from Ocala FL :) (7+ / 0-)

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 02:57:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Germans had them in 1918 (6+ / 0-)

      They had mixed success.

      The parachute canopy was stored in the aft fuselage. When the pilot jumped it was supposed to be pulled out of its compartment but frequently tangled in the aircraft.

      The first "modern" parachutes were invented after the war.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 03:03:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Actually, Jacques Garnerin, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      duhban, RiveroftheWest

      a Frenchman, made the first successful human parachute jump in Paris from a balloon at a 2000 foot altitude in 1797. Prior to that, a dog was dropped from a balloon successfully in 1785, in France. In 1911, Grant Morton jumped from a Wright Model B over Venice, CA, and landed successfully, after deploying the chute he held in his arms. Lenny is correct as far as observation balloon parachutes used during the war, as it has been said that over 800 balloonists from both sides saved their lives with chutes. By the time the war ended, the technology for pilot-deployed seat pack parachutes was still being developed and experimented with, by the British, Germans, and the U.S., but were not used in combat...SSK

      "Hey Clinton, I'm bushed" - Keith Richards

      by Santa Susanna Kid on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 07:56:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  the first parachute jump from a plane was in 1911 (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest

        The pilot of that plane (though not the guy who jumped) was Tony Jannus. In January 1914, he was the pilot of the first regularly-scheduled passenger airliner in the world, in St Petersburg, Florida. I did a diary on it here:

        http://www.dailykos.com/...

        In the end, reality always wins.

        by Lenny Flank on Thu Dec 05, 2013 at 05:17:06 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Tony Jannus piloted the plane (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest

          for Captain Albert Berry on March 1, 1912, (not in 1911), near St. Louis for an exhibition jump from an altitude of 2,500 ft. He used a 36 foot chute packed into a conical case, attached to the lower fuselage of the airplane, which had a trapeze bar under it as well, which he accessed via the axle. Morton's parachute jump was in late 1911, prior to Berry's. There is still some discussion as to whose jump was the first; some people, Air & Space magazine), in later years, claimed Morton's jump was in April, 1912. Morton's jump was not as well advertised as Berry's jump, nor was it well publicized after the jump. Author Herbert Zim, published a book in 1942, titled "Parachutes", which was a well-researched book, (at the time) on the history of the use of parachutes.  He documents Howard's as being prior to Berry's jump. "Parachuting's Unforgettable Jumps" by Howard Gregory, 1974, also references Morton's as being the first, in 1911. (Gregory was in the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment during WWII, and was considered an expert in military & sport parachuting)....SSK - Skydiver since 1980  

          "Hey Clinton, I'm bushed" - Keith Richards

          by Santa Susanna Kid on Thu Dec 05, 2013 at 07:07:12 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Average life expectency (5+ / 0-)

    of a WWI pilot in 1916 was something like two weeks if I recall correctly.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 03:04:39 PM PST

  •  Thanks for the diary (4+ / 0-)

    It takes me back to the days when I spent my paper route money on the plastic models of the Spad and Camel.

    Years ago, when I began conducting aerial surveilance of industrial facilities, it struck me how vulnerable ground forces were to aerial attack.

    You could close in at 100s of miles an hour to just a few yards and let loose with your firepower.  How scary for the ground troops to see planes approach and know there was little you could do.

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 03:44:01 PM PST

    •  it was, alas, just as scary for the pilots (5+ / 0-)

      They had people firing at them with machine guns, and nothing but canvass between them and the bullets. (Though later in the war specialized ground-attack planes were developed that had bomb racks, rockets, and armor plating in the cockpit.) Many accounts written by WW1 pilots note that they feared anti-aircraft fire (known as "archie") more than they did enemy planes. And several of the leading aces, including von Richthofen and Mick Mannock, were killed by ground fire.

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 03:52:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  One reason why A-10 pilots have... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        duhban, PrahaPartizan, RiveroftheWest

        a titanium 'tub' armored cockpit and ruggedized systems with redundancies. If you're going to get 'down and dirty', best come prepared.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:44:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Dual Rudders and Dual Engines on Pylons (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, MugWumpBlues, xaxnar

          The A-10 was expected to have two of everything and be able to allow some things to just die while continuing to still fly.  The engines were mounted the way they were so that a catastrophic hit which killed an engine and caused it to burn would also allow it to burn itself out and fall off the airplane.  Too many of the AF fighter generals have never accepted the need for specialized ground support aircraft.  After Gulf War I, they tried to justify the F-16 in its ground support role by citing the number of sorties the F-16 had flown and its relatively low loss ratio.  The number of true ground attack sorties, though, accounted for only about 10% of all of the missions flown, while every A-10 sortie flown was down in the mud.  When the true numbers were calculated, the analysts realized the A-10's loss ratio was in the range of 20% of the F-16's.  It's the only reason that the A-10 continued to fly after Gulf War I, despite the best efforts of the fighter mafia.

          "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

          by PrahaPartizan on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 10:52:19 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  when Microsoft released Combat Flight Sim 3 (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            xaxnar, RiveroftheWest, PrahaPartizan

            they focused the game largely on ground attacks (to reflect the historical reality of the period--late WW2 in the European theater). Their tagline for the game was "more guts, less glory".

            Alas, game-playing kids wanted the glory--zipping around shooting enemy fighters is fun; blowing up trains and AA positions is not. Sales of CFS3 tumbled, and CFS4 was never developed.

            In the end, reality always wins.

            by Lenny Flank on Thu Dec 05, 2013 at 05:32:01 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  The "fighter mafia" ?!?!? (0+ / 0-)

            Unless we are talking about a different fighter mafia, the "fighter mafia" (Boyd, Christie, Sprey, Riccioni, Hillaker, etc.) was the exact same team that pushed the A-10 program forward.

            You see, the existence of the A-10 is absolutely key to the central thesis of the "mafia", which is that multi-mission aircrafts are junk, as anything you will add for one type of mission will degrade the capacities of the aircraft for another mission. For instance, tacking a ground attack radar on a fighter will make the fighter heavier hence less capable for air-to-air combat. Etc.

            For the "fighter mafia", a fighter should be designed as a fighter and nothing else. A ground attack aircraft should be designed as a ground attack aircraft and nothing else(1). And a close air support aircraft should be designed as a close air support aircraft (e.g. A-10) and nothing else.

            I'm afraid you are confusing the "fighter mafia" with the Air Force brass who's central thesis is that Air Force planes should be as loaded and expensive as possible and that any aircraft that proves itself too efficient and cheap to operate should be terminated and sent to the junkyard in order to "save money" and pay for "future programs"(2).

            You understand, it really, really matters to the brass(3) because, once they leave the Air Force, they really want to collect on that nice second career they've been promised as a "consultant" in the industry.

            Notes:
            (1) Assuming the ground attack mission is really needed to the extent it is generally assumed, which is a point Boyd and al. found somewhat debatable.
            (2) And to avoid the embarrassment of having planes around that contradict that core notion that no militarily efficient airplane can come without carrying at least a 9-figures price tag
            (3) Am I calling the Air Force brass criminally corrupt? Yes. Why do you ask?

            I deal in facts. My friends are few but fast.

            by Farugia on Sun Dec 08, 2013 at 05:10:51 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Those look like Turks in the trenches. (3+ / 0-)

         Gallipoli perhaps ?

    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

    by Azazello on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 04:52:46 PM PST

  •  Excellent, interesting diary; thank you, LF. n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Otteray Scribe, duhban
  •  I am old enough to have known a number (4+ / 0-)

    of WW-1 vets. I have a picture of my uncle Warner standing by his Thomas Morse Scout on a flight line somewhere. If I can find it, I will scan it and post a story about Uncle Warner.

    My best friend's father was Canadian, and flew a Sopwith Camel. My friend was, as he put it, "A late-in-life accident." My friend was conceived at a train station. I really don't want to know the details.

    Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength. - Eric Hoffer

    by Otteray Scribe on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:28:19 PM PST

    •  there was a WW1 vet in the little PA town (5+ / 0-)

      where I grew up, too. He never saw any major battles--mostly, he said, his war was long crushing boredom, interrupted by random artillery hits that occasionally blew up someone standing nearby.

      He was adamantly against the Vietnam War (this was in '69-70) because, he said, it was the same sort of pointless slaughter.

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:34:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The SE-5a was always my favorite airplane (4+ / 0-)

    of that era.

    I have been drawn to it for reasons I can't explain. An emotional connection. There is something strange about my feelings for the SE-5a. Even as a kid, I had dreams that I was flying one, looking over my shoulder constantly, peering into the sun, and the wind is bitterly cold. I have had that same dream for years.  Here is where it gets eerie. The late Frank Ryder had a museum quality replica he was trying to sell. I stopped by his WW-1 museum in Guntersville, Alabama one afternoon, and got the private tour by Frank himself. We finally got to the SE-5a in the last of several hangars full of airplanes.  It was beautiful.

    I climbed into the cockpit, and had the damnedest flashback. I closed my eyes for a moment, and my hand fell naturally onto the throttle and stick. It felt RIGHT. The gauges were where they were supposed to be. I felt that I had been here before. Frank asked me if I wanted to fly it. I really did, but it was a gray rainy day and I would have to come back when the weather was better.

    Frank took me on to show me his latest pride and joy, his brand new Piper Malibu. I climbed in and was impressed with all the latest in avionics. A few weeks later, Frank, his wife Carolyn, and son Scott were all dead. The Malibu augured in at Rochester, NY two days before Christmas.

    I never did get to fly that SE-5a, but the memory of sitting in that cockpit while the short hairs on the back of my neck stood up is still with me.

    Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength. - Eric Hoffer

    by Otteray Scribe on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:32:39 PM PST

    •  it may be cliche, but I always liked the Dr1 (4+ / 0-)

      It was the "Zero fighter" of its day--nothing could outmaneuver it.

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:42:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Nothing could outturn it. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        duhban, PrahaPartizan, RiveroftheWest

        Fokker designed it to be a turning airplane. There were faster airplanes. The Dr1 had a top speed of 115 mph. For one thing, those three wings had a huge amount of parasitic drag.  The official top speed of the SE-5a was close to 140 mph. It could break off an engagement at will, reposition and return, or fly away, depending on the situation.  If the Dr1 was the "Zero," then the SE-5a had to be the "Mustang."  

        Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength. - Eric Hoffer

        by Otteray Scribe on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 06:00:24 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  In More Ways Than One (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, Otteray Scribe

        The Dr1 suffered from hidden defects in design concept, just as the Zero did.  While the Zero's problems focused on things like defensive protection, the Dr.1's involved its wings.  Having wings which could fold like a parachute in tight turns could make for tricky flying.  But Fokker did wonders with that rotary engine to give it snap turns.  They don't build'em like that anymore.

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 10:56:20 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Nothing like a shooting war to spur progress (4+ / 0-)

    It is a sad fact but wars are the most formidable engine for technical progress. Anything that's technically possible has a shot, as long it can help kill the other guy.

    When you think that the Royal Flying Corps was created a mere two years before the war, it's amazing how planes went from curiosity items to fully operable and (mostly) efficient machines. World War I was truly the invention of aviation (and WWII the invention of modern aviation).

    I deal in facts. My friends are few but fast.

    by Farugia on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:37:13 PM PST

    •  not just in the air---- (6+ / 0-)

      Submarines, aircraft carriers, machine guns, heavy artillery, tanks, hand grenades, mortars--all of them cut their eyeteeth during WW1.

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:44:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Gatling guns were a bit earlier, I believe (5+ / 0-)

        There always seem to be ideas for weapons that take years to be realized - if ever - because the technology isn't up to it yet or is too damn expensive. The SR-71 wouldn't have been practical if they hadn't found a way to produce titanium in useful quantities first.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:48:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  ugly conflict (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest

        Good diary, Lenny.  well written.

        Mustard gas too.  Read somewhere the Germans were insane to use it first as the prevailing winds blew east.   From wiki

         "Mustard gas was first used effectively in World War I by the German army against British and Canadian soldiers near Ypres, Belgium, in 1917 and later also against the French Second Army. The name Yperite comes from its usage by the German army near the town of Ypres. The Allies did not use mustard gas until November 1917 at Cambrai, France, after the armies had captured a stockpile of German mustard-gas shells. It took the British more than a year to develop their own mustard gas weapon. (The only option available to the British was the Despretz–Niemann–Guthrie process). This was used first in September 1918 during the breaking of the Hindenburg Line.

        ...  Exposure to mustard gas was lethal in about one percent of cases. Its effectiveness was as an incapacitating agent. The early countermeasures against mustard gas were relatively ineffective, since a soldier wearing a gas mask was not protected against absorbing it through his skin and being blistered.

        “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” ― Will Rogers (Of course this also applies to me.)

        by MugWumpBlues on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 11:50:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  On the lighter side, a couple of additional points (4+ / 0-)

    While aeroplanes introduced aerial combat to war, the high ground has always been of interest, and it should be remarked that aerial reconnaissance via balloons dates back to the American Civil War. (And even earlier in France on an experimental basis.)

    As offensive weapons, balloons are of limited utility - but they have an advantage as observation platforms over planes. They can stay aloft for hours. The advent of armed aircraft made this rather a perilous duty however.  American Ace Frank Luke earned quite a reputation as a balloon buster.

    Between September 12 and September 29, Luke was credited with shooting down 14 German balloons and four airplanes:[3] These 18 victories, which Luke earned during just ten sorties in eight days, was a feat unsurpassed by any pilot in World War I.[1]
    Powered lighter than air craft, while also vulnerable to attacks by airplanes still had advantages in terms of payload, ceiling, and range. The Germans attacked England using dirigibles, airships with rigid frames generically called Zeppelins, starting in 1915 and into 1916. Extremely hazardous and difficult missions, the Germans nonetheless kept them up for several years before developing the Gotha heavy bomber.

    Between World Wars, dirigibles routinely made transoceanic crossings carrying passengers and cargo. (A few numbers and illustrations) It wasn't just the Germans who experimented with them, either; most of the major powers dabbled in them. The spire on top of the Empire State Building was intended to serve as a mooring mast, although it proved impractical. It did make a great opening sequence in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow though. The fun starts about 30 seconds into the video clip. You'd never get me to cross that gangplank!
    http://youtu.be/...

    During World War II, airships continued to serve, doing coastal patrol and convoy escort duty against submarines. While aircraft were much faster and much improved by that time, airships still had an advantage in endurance.
    http://youtu.be/...

    There are still efforts to find a role for airships in the military these days. The possibilities offered by new materials and technologies are pretty seductive.

    ...The Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, or LEMV, is a 300-foot-long triple-hulled blimp scheduled to be deployed to southwestern Asia next year, where it will loiter at 20,000 feet for up to three weeks at a time, providing a round-the-clock surveillance-coverage capability equivalent to that of 25 fixed-wing drones….
    Alas, it looks like the program has been killed off for now.

    As an interesting "What If" slant to this diary on the role of World War One in catalyzing the development of military airplanes, the weekly episodes of The Airship Flying Cloud R-505 are set in an alternate universe where World War One ended several years early.

    It is a world much like our own, except that the Great War ended in 1916. As the Powers recoiled, exhausted, from the tragedies of Verdun and the Sommes, Woodrow Wilson was able to negotiate an Armistice that returned Europe to its pre-War borders. (For this accomplishment, he was honored with the Nobel Prize, though this was later tarnished by the failure of his long-sought League of Nations.) With the forcing ground of military need removed, aircraft development took a different path from the one it followed in our world, and effort that might have been wasted on developing glamorous but impractical aeroplanes was spent perfecting the far more capable airships. As the 1920's drew to a close, the world was peaceful and prosperous, linked by fleets of mighty lighter-than-air vessels from many nations.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:41:04 PM PST

  •  First Plane With Machine Gun - College Park MD (3+ / 0-)

    http://inventors.about.com/...

    First Armed Airplane
    In 1912, a Wright Brothers plane, the first airplane armed with a machine gun was flown at an airport in College Park, Maryland. The airport had existed since 1909 when the Wright Brothers took their government-purchased airplane there to teach Army officers to fly.

    Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

    by bernardpliers on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:46:53 PM PST

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