It was said to be the “war to end all wars,” however, World War I only provided the fuel to ignite the world into hostile circumstances. 100 years later, we look back on the world’s history and the horrific slaughter on mankind through trench warfare, tank battalions, and the brand new contraption just taking the world by storm—the aeroplane.
In just 100 years the world has quickly developed and improved in aerodynamics. From the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903 to today’s manless flying machines, architects and mechanics have greatly influenced the air and space market. But how did flying evolve into what is has become today? Well, believe it or not, it all started with World War I…
Just prior to the war, England’s air fleet consisted of only 33 planes. Most of these early flying machines were made of paper, bamboo or poplar wood, and bicycle tires. Canvas skins were later used because of its durability over paper. However, Germany advanced in the field of aerodynamics and quickly developed their own effective planes that were more durable, could carry metal bodies instead of paper or canvas, and were faster than the Royal Flying Corps’ own planes.
When reconnaissance flights began, pilots were also instructed to take down Germany’s 170 balloon observation crafts. The pilots found while performing their duties they were also able to drop small bombs from the cockpit onto the enemy’s line with little threat to the pilot and the aircraft. It caused significant damage to the enemy in which they had little to no time to react. In no time at all, guns were mounted to the fuselage and synchronized with the front propeller, thus thrusting the opposing sides into a new kind of war—an air war.
Fresh and young pilots entering the RFC (some only 16 or 17 years of age) were thrown into pilot training almost immediately. Most WWI veteran pilots recorded that upon entering their quarters they were handed a pilot’s handbook and the joystick. Before the invention of simulators, a young pilot’s training was on-the-job. Sadly, over 15,000 planes and some 7,000 pilots lost their lives in training alone. By 1917, the life expectancy of a pilot was only 11 days.
The pioneers of flying endured harsh flying conditions. Due to little experiment on altitudes and air pressure, pilots made the half hour climb to 20,000 feet to find the altitude a frigid tormentor. Oxygen was sparse to none at all and the oxygen mask had not yet come into existence. Many suffered frostbite from the extreme temperatures, and air sickness due to the lack of oxygen in the blood. It was an excruciating experience for many.
If a pilot was lucky enough to live two weeks and shot down a total of 5 enemy planes, he was deemed a Flying Ace and decorated for his bravery in the skies. But most pilots never received the recognition they deserved. England’s laws prevented an Ace’s name and photo from being published in the newspapers, but when the law was lifted, a pilot, whose name did appear in the papers, became one not so popular with his peers. The English pilots believed they were a team and did not look for self-glory as the German’s had.
After the end of the first world war, people around the globe were ready to dismiss everything associated with war. The price had been too high for many. Soon pilots and their aircraft were demobilized. Many pilots were out of work and rejected from entering the army. But then something promising happened, and it was something that was catching around the globe. In 1918, the first successful airmail trip was made and inaugurated, introducing the world to the possibilities of air travel.
Since then, man’s dream of flying has become a reality and our technology continues to grow at an amazing pace, expanding our world to the limits of our imagination.
Thanks so much, Rachel, for finishing out our month of World War I…
Obsessed with World War II since the tender age of 17, Rachel Muller has been studying The Greatest Generation for 13 years and composing stories of love and war for nearly three years. After taking time to start and raise a family she has now turned her to passion—writing WWII fiction.
Her first book in her Love and War Series, Letters From Grace, won a Top 28 spot in the Harlequin/Mills & Boon So You Think You Can Write Contest (2012) where it finaled as the only historical romance in their Love Inspired line. Since then she has concentrated on re-writes and is now under review by literary agents. You can learn more about Rachel at www.racheldmuller.com or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.