WW1: The Dawn Of Military Aviation

by André Aguiar / Sep 16, 2022
WW1: The Dawn Of Military Aviation

The First World War saw the dawn of modern warfare. It began with men in fancy uniforms on horseback and ended with epic aerial battles.

This is the story of five of these pioneering aircraft and their Aces, who heroically led the way into a new era. 

Although his notoriety granted him several different aliases, German pilot Manfred von Richthofen is best remembered by the immortal 'Red Baron' moniker. Having started WW1 as a cavalry officer, he switched to the German air service in 1916. As his reputation grew, Richthofen painted his Fokker tri-plane a flashy shade of red, a suitable leader of the dreaded 'Flying Circus' known for their colourful liveries and audacious manoeuvres.
Up until his demise in April 1918, shot down over the Somme River, the Baron took out 80 enemy aircraft, more than any other WW1 pilot.

FOKKER DR.I
Aerial Victories: 80
Powerplant: 1x Oberursel Ur.II 9-cylinder air-cooled rotary piston engine, 82 kW (110 hp)
Propellers: 2-bladed fixed-pitch wooden
Max. Speed: 180 km/h (110 mph)
Range: 300 km (190 miles)
Op. Ceiling: 6,100m (20,000ft) Climb Rate: 342m/min (1,122fpm)
Wingspan: 7.19m (23ft 7in) Length: 5.77m (18ft 11in)
Empty Weight: 406kg (895lb)
Guns: 2x 7.92 mm (0.312 in) Maschinengewehr 08 "Spandau" machine guns

 

America's WW1 'Ace of Aces' Eddie Rickenbacker, managed a total of 26 victories to his name even though he just got his wings in early 1918 at 27 years of age - two years older than the age limit for pilots. A lifelong daredevil, he competed in the first Indianapolis 500 and set land speed records at Daytona. He won the Medal of Honor for singlehandedly engaging seven German aircraft, shooting down two of them before making a miraculous getaway. In 1942, he survived a plane crash that left him adrift in the Pacific for 22 days. 

SPAD XIII
Aerial Victories: 26
Powerplant: 1x Hispano-Suiza 8Ba, Bb or Bd water-cooled 8-cylinder vee-type, 150 kW (200 hp)
Propellers: 2-bladed wooden
Max. Speed: 211 km/h (131 mph)
Range: 362 km (225 miles)
Op. Ceiling: 6,800m (22,300ft) Climb Rate: 444m/min (1,457fpm)
Wingspan: 8.25m (27ft 1in) Length: 6.25m (20ft 6in)
Empty Weight: 601.5kg (1,326lb)
Guns: 2x .303-cal. Vickers machine guns or on USAS Examples, 2x Marlin machine guns

 

Count Francesco Baracca enrolled in the Military Academy at Modena at the age of 19. Starting his career with the Royal Cavalry, he soon became fascinated with aviation. In 1912 he joined the Italian Air Service and by the time of his death in June 1918, he had a score sheet of 34 victories. The SPAD XIII he flew had the Cavallino Rampante (Prancing Horse) on the side, Baracca's individual mark. After the war, his mother showed the prancing stallion emblem to one Enzo Ferrari, who was seemingly so impressed that he made it his car company's official symbol. 

SPAD XIII
Aerial Victories: 34
Powerplant: 1x Hispano-Suiza 8Ba, Bb or Bd water-cooled 8-cylinder vee-type, 150 kW (200 hp)
Propellers: 2-bladed wooden
Max. Speed: 211 km/h (131 mph)
Range: 362 km (225 miles)
Op. Ceiling: 6,800m (22,300ft) Climb Rate: 444m/min (1,457fpm)
Wingspan: 8.25m (27ft 1in) Length: 6.25m (20ft 6in)
Empty Weight: 601.5kg (1,326lb)
Guns: 2x .303-cal. Vickers machine guns or on USAS Examples, 2x Marlin machine guns

 

French Ace Georges Guynemer first entered WW1 as a mechanic. In June 1915, he took off to the skies and soon established himself as one of the most feared pilots. Guynemer used his mechanical know-how to make improvements to his aircraft constantly. Known for his chivalry as a pilot, he famously showed mercy to enemies doomed by technical issues. Despite this, he still managed to shoot down 54 enemy planes up until September 1917, when he was killed during a mission over Belgium.

SPAD VII
Aerial Victories: 54
Powerplant: 1x Hispano-Suiza 8Aa 90º V-8 liquid-cooled engine, 110 kW (150 hp)
Propellers: 2-bladed wooden
Max. Speed: 193 km/h (120 mph)
Range: 400 km (250 miles)
Op. Ceiling: 5,500m (18,000 ft) Climb Rate: 444m/min (1,457fpm)
Wingspan: 7.822m (25ft 8in) Length: 6.080m (19ft 11in)
Empty Weight: 500kg (1,102lb)
Guns: 1x .303 in Vickers machine gun

 

German pilots dubbed William Bishop 'Hell's Handmaiden'. Even compared with the impressive performance of Canadian pilots in WW1, Bishop stood out as possessing uncanny positional awareness and marksmanship - a skill he perfected by dropping tin cans from the cockpit and then using them for target practice in mid-air. By June 1918, he was removed from combat by his superiors for fear that his larger-than-life feats of courage would get them killed and affect morale on the home front. He had 72 aerial victories.

S.E.5a
Aerial Victories: 72
Powerplant: 1x Hispano-Suiza 8 or Wolseley Viper water-cooled V8 engine, 150 hp (110 kW)
Propellers: 2 or 4-bladed wooden
Max. Speed: 222 km/h (138 mph)
Range: 480 km (300 miles)
Op. Ceiling: 5,200m (17,000ft) Climb Rate: 320m/min (1,050fpm)
Wingspan: 8.10m (26ft 7in) Length: 6.38m (20ft 11in)
Guns: 1x .303 in forward-firing Vickers machine gun with Constantinesco interrupter gear; 1x .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun on Foster mounting on the upper wing

 

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