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AVIATION ENTERED World War I as almost a curiosity, balloons and fledgling aeroplanes used for observation and little more. Within five years, 1914-1918, aircraft became deadly weapons bringing warfare to the sky. A recent publication gives superb details of this evolution.

The British magazine Aeroplane occasionally offers Special Archives, softcover editions that are beyond mere magazines.


Aviation Archive: Aeroplanes of World War I, by the editors of Aeroplane, Kelsey Publishing Group, 2013; I got this Aeroplane Special at Barnes & Noble for $18.25.

This large-format 98-page collection has rare photographs, color profiles and fascinating cutaways of 24 aircraft seeing action in WWI.


The SPAD XIII, as seen in a two-page foldout. Image from Aviation Archive.

The expected aeroplanes are here, for example, the Fokker Dr.I Triplane, SPAD XIII and Sopwith Camel. But also detailed are less familiar craft such as the Bristol M.1 Monoplane Scout, the Caudron G.3 and Hanriot HD.1.


The Caudron G.3 observation plane and trainer first flew in May 1914. Image from Aviation Archive.

The French Caudron G.3 is exemplary of early observation aircraft. As war progressed and even afterward, it was also widely used as a trainer.

I appreciate the Caudron’s minimalist approach to aeronautical engineering; only the essentials are here, and then sparingly. Long-time readers of SimanaitisSays may recall an artful rendering of this aeroplane at

The Fokker D.VII fighter came late in the war, its first flight in January 1918. An important asset was the D.VII’s structural integrity sufficient to withstand its high maneuverability. (Early craft were known to disintegrate in extreme maneuvers.)


Fokker D.VII. The lozenge pattern of its camouflage recalls the art of Paul Klee. See Image from Aviation Archive.

Also discussed in Aviation Archive is a WWI engineering competition between the water-cooled inline powerplant versus the air-cooled rotary variety. The latter’s crankshaft was fixed to the airframe, its cylinders rotating with the propeller.


An 80-hp Gnôme Monosoupape (single-valve) rotary engine. Image from Aviation Archive.

Rotary advantages included good ratios of power-to-weight and size-to-power. A tradeoff was the spinning engine’s gyroscopic effect on the aircraft’s behavior. (See


Lewis machine gun. Image from Aviation Archive.

Last, should you ever find yourself needing to fieldstrip a Lewis machine gun, a two-page spread in this Aeroplane Special offers a start. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014   

One comment on “WORLD WAR I AVIATION

  1. Jeff Wright
    February 10, 2014

    Dennis, the art of aeronautical engineering did indeed leap forward considerably during World War I, as well as during and immediately after WWII. For my money, the best of several books I have read about the Wright Brothers is “Kill Devil Hill” by Harry Coombs. Harry was a friend of Neil Armstrong’s. Once, during a fishing expedition in, I believe, Wyoming, Neil asked Harry how much he really knew about the Wright Brothers. Harry answered the obvious, that they were the first to fly heavier than air machines, but not much more. Neil suggested that he study up on them and his wonderful book was the result. Which is a long way of telling you that at the end of the book, Harry stated what many had traditionally thought: if the Wright Brothers had not succeeded, someone else (Chanute? Langley? Curtiss?) surely would have shortly. But, Coombs concluded that the Wright’s much better approach to understanding the science involved as well as seeing the bigger picture of all the key principles actually put them about 20 years ahead of their competitors. Wrapping up his line of reasoning, he reminded the reader that World War I came along within that 20-year period–and of the increasing contributions of air power as the war progressed. Without the Wright Brothers it may have been a much different war. I highly recommend Kill Devil Hill if you have not read it.

    As a post script, I had the wonderful opportunity to take my then 13-year old son to Kitty Hawk on December 17, 2003 for the 100th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur’s four historic flights. We and about 35,000 of our closest friends braved the cold and wind ( and rain) as the Wrights had done a century before to watch the attempted flight of the 1903 Flyer reproduction. While they were not able to get the airplane off the ground, we did get to hear the exact reproduction of Charley Taylor’s engine run. Knowing what that first successful aircraft engine sounded like in 1903 will stay with me the rest of my life. And, we got to see Neil Armstrong introduce his friend, Harry Coombs, who presented the United States with another reproduction of the 1903 Flyer for the museum at the National Monument at Kitty Hawk. While the museum had the Wright’s 1902 glider it never had the 1903 Flyer or even a reproduction. Harry rectified the problem that day shortly before he passed away.

    Four years later, my son and I (he had his private license by then) each enjoyed the thrill of logging a landing in my plane at First Flight Airport at the National Monument.

    Always a pleasure to tune in to simanaitissays. Keep up the great work!

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