“The one thing you should know about World War I, it brought us into the modern era.”
Libby H. O’Connell, Ph.D., Historian
World War I was a war that featured the first global conflict. It was a war that resulted in the loss of millions, the change of a landscape, and the change of global politics. It was also a war that changed warfare. The technology of World War I changed war for the better. Aircrafts specifically allowed for easier fighting in war to occur. Their structure, weaponry, and overall impact provided a foundation for wars to come.
In 1903, the Wright brothers conducted the first recorded flight of an aircraft that they built, and soon after in 1909, the first flight across the English Channel occurred by Louis Bleriot. Due to the start of the war being in 1914, this meant aircrafts were very new and extremely basic. Originally, they were only used for scouting enemy territory and aerial photography. A British General claimed that, “The airplane is useless for the purposes of war.” Even the French thought airplanes were nonessential, and ultimately had no use in war in general. General Ferdinand Foch expressed his feelings on aircrafts when he said, “Aviation is fine as sport…But as an instrument of war, it is worthless.” As the war progressed however, airplanes became a main part in combat.
The first airplanes weren’t very elaborate or large; parachutes couldn’t even fit in the small cockpits the pilot flew in. Parachutes surprisingly also weren’t allowed in planes because officials thought men would use them to escape or surrender any combat presented to them. Combat in early aircraft development consisted of the pilots or co-pilot dropping a bomb on a target off the side of the aircraft. This was not very effective, but the strategy of using airplanes in war soon flourished because of it. The fighter, bomber, and Zeppelin were created as a result of noting aircraft importance in war.
Avro, a British company, created one of the first models of aircrafts used in WWI; the Avro 504. It was actually one of the first of British aircrafts to be shot down in combat. Several other fighting planes were created including the Sopwith Camel and the Fokker Dr. Triplane. The Fokker Dr. Triplane was one of the best fighter planes and it, “…eclipsed all fighters.” It was easily maneuverable and it climbed very easily as compared to other airplanes. Bomber planes were also an essential part to World War I. They made aerial attacking possible even though it was not a new tactic promoted by the military. Bombers not only allowed for attack on any ground warfare, but they made it possible to attack enemy factories producing weaponry, cavalry, etc. The Germans mainly used the Gotha Bomber and the British used the Handley Pager Bomber.
Zeppelins were the most dominant form of aircraft before 1914 and were named after their creator, Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin. These aircrafts were rigid; the shape of the hydrogen-filled envelope was maintained by the solid frame work rather than by the pressure of the gas inside. Because of these dimensions, the Zeppelin was hard to control on the ground. Zeppelins were also extremely expensive to make. It was estimated that you could make 34 airplanes for the cost of one Zeppelin. Yet in 1992, a goldbeater’s skin was used to replace rubberized cotton that made the gas cells inside the ships envelope. This helped the ship become much lighter and got rid of the risk of igniting the hydrogen. More improvements were made to it including new aluminum alloy called duraluminand, and more powerful engines. This helped these zeppelins carry 14.2 ton loads at more than 50 mph. By the end of World War I, aircrafts had been noticed for their importance and developed successfully to have a great impact on war.
Aircrafts started out as the least important instrument in World War I. Over the four years of the war however, they developed, changed, and flew the war to success. They caused reconnaissance and aerial photography to be possible, they helped make attacking enemy factories and homelands easier, and they allowed for the attacking of infantry, artillery, and cavalry from the sky. Their introduction to the war not only made these things possible, but they helped improve planes for the future.
(“Zeppelins Raids.” Nationalarchive.gov http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/zeppelin-raids/ , accessed October 10,2014)
(FAA, “Aircraft Structures,” FAA.gov, https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/handbooks_manuals/aircraft/amt_airframe_handbook/media/ama_ch01.pdf, accessed on October 10, 2014).
(“Aircraft and World War One”. HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2011. Web., October 10,2014)
(The Fog of War, “4 Years of Thunder” YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-Qrx7pO65Y, October 10, 2014)
(Grant, R.G. “FLIGHT 100 Years of Aviation.” New York: DK Publishing Inc., 2002. Dorling Kindersley Limited.)