A Report Into the Development of Aircraft and Air Combat 1914 -1918

World War I accelerated the evolution of aircraft dramatically. What was once considered a privately funded venture for creating faster, larger and longer-flying aircraft for international sport and prestige turned into a race for air superiority. Traditional military strategy at first rejected the awesome potential of the airplane as a war machine, but soon the brutal reality of taking the war to the enemy by air overruled all protests. Pre-WWI planes were used only in scouting roles, but their versatility soon became obvious. Planes were used for many tasks during the war, such as photographing troop movements, strafing enemy positions, bombing enemy positions and disabling supply systems.

People and Roles

Anthony Fokker – German Inventor

One of the most important aircraft designers of WWI, Fokker designed a revolutionary synchronised machine gun fitting that allowed pilot to fire whilst flying without the risk of a deflected bullet accidentally killing them.

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen – German Pilot

“Success flourishes only in perseverance — ceaseless, restless perseverance.”

Also known as the “Red Baron” (his plane was painted almost entirely red) was the most prolific ace of WWI, von Richthofen shot down 80 allied planes in a 2-year period. He also worked closely with Fokker on some occasions on the design of aircraft. This lead to the creation of the Fokker D.VII. Richthofen was also responsible for

Aircraft

Fokker D.VII – German Plane

Was seen by man as the German triumph of aviation invention. Created by Fokker and Richthofen in 1918, it was too late in the war to be of any real use, but the fact that the Treaty of Versailles specifically demanded that all Fokker D.VII must be turned over to the Allied powers denoted their fear for such a weapon. It entered the war in March/April 1918.

Sopwith Camel – British Plane

The British champion, the Sopwith was credited with the most aerial kills for the Allies, with 1,294 planes downed. The plane was not for the inexperienced, as the high manoeuvrability came at an equally high price, as it had vicious spin tendencies. 385 deaths of the 788 total came from non-combat situations. It entered the war in May 1917.

Airships

Another innovation for WWI, airships were great for observation and scouting at sea. The German type of dirigible was the Zeppelin (pictured). In the early parts of the war they were used as bombers as they had a huge weight capacity, 2,000 kgs. But, as they were large, easy to spot and easy to hit they were abandoned as weapons. The first notable assault by a Zeppelin was on London on the 19 of January 1916. Three German Zeppelins headed for London, but one had to turn back d to malfunctions. The others two made it but caused little useful damage.

Tactics

WWI was a golden era for air combat, and therefore, air combat tactics. Pioneers like Lanoe Hawker (Britain) and Max Immelmann (Germany) were among the first pilots to put into practice such basic manoeuvres as the Immelmann Turn. Such tactics paved the way for future air combat aces to elaborate and transform this new weapon into one of the most deadly forms of combat.

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