BEGINNINGS OF WAR IN THE AIR

 

The first successful flying machines were part of a technological revolution that according to Bernard Dunlap, "may have made World War I all but inevitable." When the Great War started in August 1914, airplanes were immediately seen as an important tool to keep track of enemy movements from the air. Both sides used balloons to observe the enemy and soon developed two-seater aircraft with pilot and photographer.

 

Both sides also developed faster one-seater airplanes that could attack and shoot down enemy balloons and observer aircraft. By 1916 one-seater aircraft were doing battle with each other. Their "dogfights" quickly drew the attenton of the press and "aces" like Albert Ball of Britain and Manfred von Richtofen of Germany became celebrities for the short time they remained alive.

 

Pilots escaped the misery, infection and disease of trench warfare, where shells blew men to bits and poison gas swept across no man's land. Flying was itself a dream and an adventure. But it was an extremely dangerous one, especially for novices; the average life of pilots was two or three weeks.

 

Planes became more sophisticated but also harder to fly, often unstable and quite flammable. Parachutes had been developed for balloonists to escape attack but not until 1918, near the end of the war, did the Germans design a parachute that could be used from an airplane.

 

War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator was the first account by an aviator to describe the fear, the desperate courage and often false bravado of pilots who fully expected to die but would raise hell doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTO GALLERY

 

 

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