What Kind of Impact Did Fighter Pilots Have During WWI?

World War I was the first major war of the twentieth century. All nations involved in the war had ground troops, naval vessels, and the newest kind of defense through the air. Thanks to the Wright Brothers, who invented the first US airplane in December 1903.

Gustave Whitehead, a German Immigrant, is said to be the first person to invent and fly the motorized airplane in 1901. He designed a glider in 1897, which relied on a man below to steer the glider. The man beneath the glider held tethers allowing him to steer the glider. Whitehead proceeded to construct an airplane with wheels, an enclosed fuel tank, and an aluminum body. The Wright Brothers were also an ingenious pair of inventors. After observing birds, they established the notion of “wing warping” which used a moveable rudder to steer the plane. The body of their first plane, the Wright Brothers Flyer, was a combination of metal and wooden parts with muslin fabric covering the entire wingspan. However, depending on who you talk to, the first person who invented the airplane in America is up for debate. In any case, the invention of the airplane at the turn of the century changed the world, and warfare forever.

The lifespan of a fighter pilot was only a few weeks. The planes they flew did not have an enclosed cockpit which meant they were exposed to the harsh elements. Planes were not equipped with parachutes either because they were too bulky, and the parachute bag would not fit in the cockpit with the pilot. USAWW1.com (https://www.usaww1.com/World_War_1_Fighter_Pilots.php4) says that back then, it was also believed that parachutes showed a sign of weakness and encouraged the pilot to jump, instead of trying to land the plane safely. However, that perspective changed once the commanders realized that competent and experienced pilots were hard to come by.

One of the strategies used by all nations involved in the war were reconnaissance missions. These missions highly favored because the aerial photos that were taken helped pilots track and follow enemy trenches. Performing this kind of task was not easy. The pilot had to have a steady hand on the controls and fly in an even, straight line while the photographer took the pictures. Unfortunately, reconnaissance missions were especially dangerous because the fighter was an easy target for the enemy. However, these photos provided the pilots with invaluable information so that they could accurately identify their targets. Reconnaissance photography was especially useful during bombing raids.

As WWI progressed, so did the development of the fighter plane. At the beginning of the war, the planes did not have weapons, but many pilots had a few grenades with them on board. But this was not profitable because it was challenging to fly a plane and defend it. Within a year of the beginning of the war, fighter planes were equipped with machine guns to fight off opposing forces. The guns were in the front of the plane and required an extra pair of hands and eyes. Another machine gun was introduced, one that hesitated. Why was this significant? This was an ingenious invention because the hesitation allowed the weapon to fire through the propellers of the airplanes and cause more damage to the enemy.

Some of the best pilots of the day used their wit and flying skills to defeat the enemy they encountered. The pilots who fought during WWI were brave, cunning, intelligent, fearless, and many fighter pilots defied death multiple times. These soldiers were the bravest of the brave and fought to defend their country.