The same type of plane that the Red Baron flew (above)
and that Eddie Rickenbacker flew (below).
H.G. Wells, a famous fiction writer, foresaw the use of the flying machines in battle: "The war comes through the air, bombs drop in the night. Quiet people go out in the morning and see air fleets passing overhead--dripping death--dripping death."
The Italians were the first to take the airplane into war, on October 23, 1911, Captain Carlo Piazza took off for a one hour reconnaissance flight. A few days later another Italian pilot took aboard four bombs strapped to a grenade. The pilot pulled the grenade pin then dropped the four pound package over the side when over flying enemy troops. This was the first bombing mission.
A few years before the first bombing US Navy took an interest in aviation. A young aviator, Eugene Ely, took his Curtiss biplane and flew of the modified deck on the USS Birmingham. This was the first successful launch of an airplane off of a ship, a launch that led to the creation of the aircraft carrier. on June 11th, 1911 the same pilot flew a different Curtiss biplane onto the deck of the USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco, where the captain greeted him saying, "This is the most important landing since the dove returned to the ark."
During World War I, the airplane had it's first chance to prove it's usefulness. At the beginning of the war pilots were used to report enemy troop movements. It didn't take long until pilots brought things up for them to drop onto opposing forces. Objects to be dropped on the enemy included bricks, rocks, and bags of fertilizer from the local dairy. Pilots not only tried to kill people on the ground but also those in the air. Many brought along small hand guns and would try to shoot other enemy airplanes out of the sky. Machine guns were soon put on the airplane so that pilots could kill other pilots faster. Early placements of the machine gun were usually on top of the wing. This allowed the machine gun to shoot without hitting the propeller, but the machine guns were hard to reload. The pilot would need to stand up, hold the stick between his legs to fly the airplane, replace the machine gun canister, then sit back down and try to attack the enemy airplane. These early machine guns jammed a lot, were hard to aim, and went through a canister of bullets in a couple of seconds. A French aviator, Roland Garros, found a better solution to this crude machine gun setup. He created a mechanism called a disrupter that allowed the machine gun to shoot through the propeller. This was done by stopping the machine gun when the propeller crossed in front, this allowed the machine gun to be placed in front of the pilot. This made aiming the gun and reloading much easier on the pilot. During this time the term "ace" was created. An ace is a pilot who shot down 5 or more pilots. In near the end of the war American pilots joined the battle against the Germans. The US promised to send thousands of airplanes to Europe, but not one American Built airplane ever reached the front lines. US pilots were left to use the French built Nieuport 28, an airplane the French Government rejected. An American ace, Eddie Rickenbacker (right), shot down 26 enemy airplanes in the Nieuport and explained why the French rejected the airplane, "It had a grim tendency to shed their wings." The German's top ace was Manfred Von Richthofen (above left), who scored 80 confirmed kills before he went down on April 21, 1918. The Red Baron (as he was known) flew a red German triplane called the Fokker Dr I Dreidecker. The red paint scheme was added only for the psychological effects. By the end of World War I the airplane found a use no longer as a "toy" but more of a weapon.
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