Wilbur Wright test at Dayton 1908 - reserve

1905 - After their initial period of experimentation 1903-1905, the Wrights did not fly until 1908. U.S. had not been willing to buy their plane.

1906 - Albert Santos Dumont flew- Lord Northcliffe proclaimed "England is no longer an island."

1908 - Wright demonstrations in Europe rekindled interest. The French and British began to manufacture planes. The Gnome rotary engine made in France became the most successful prewar engines because of its light weight.

1909 - Louis Bleriot crossed English Channel in July in monoplane with engine by the Italian Alexander Anzani.

1910 - French and German and Austrian and Russian governments began to subsidize military aircraft development. The British Royal Aircraft Factory began in 1911, and the Royal Flying Corps was created in 1912. The British Navy formed the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) bought its planes from private industry, such as Sopwith. The U.S. Navy began to buy Curtiss airplanes in 1911 and Congres gave the Signal Corps a small appropriation to buy planes in 1912.

1911 - the Royal Engineers Apr. 1 created an air battalion, and began searching for airplanes from Sopwith and de Havilland. The Royal Flying Corps was established May 13, 1912, and the Royal Naval Air Service July 1, 1914.

1912 - French had 60 aircraft for military maneuvers in Sept. The Farman company was the leading manufacturer, with engines from Gnome and Renault. Italy began to support aviation when airplanes proved their worth in the Libyan campaign; Capt. Carlo Piazza on Nov. 1 led 9 airplanes that dropped grenades on the Turks; was considered a violation of international law, especially 1907 Hague convention that prohibited bombing of undefended places by any means. Italy continued development of air power; Major Giulio Douhet began to create a military air wing that included by 1913 a tri-engine Caproni bomber.

1913 - in England, Vickers made an Experimental Fighting Biplane that was a 2-seat pusher nicknamed "Gunbus"

1914 - In August, France had 141 planes in 21 squadrons with 220 pilots. Germany had 10 dirigibles and 245 planes with inline Daimler engines. Britain sent 50 planes to France with the BEF, and the RNAS had 50 planes in England. Austria had 40 planes. Russia had 15 dirigibles and 250 planes, but only a small aircraft industry and no motor production. Italy had 50 planes in 11 squadrons. The U.S. in July finally established the Aviation Section in the Signal Corps but had only 15 training planes.

1914 - German Z6 dirigible bombed Luttich Aug. 6, and German army used 5 dirigibles to bomb fortresses in Belgium during August, and to bomb the French attacking in Lorraine, but most were shot down. German planes did better than dirigibles, spotted for the German army as it advanced into France. German planes played an important role on the Eastern front locating the movements of the Russian Army at Tannenberg. The Russian general Samsonov, however, ignored air reports of the position of Mackensen's army. The Russians lost 91 planes by Oct. 15, and began accepting volunteer fliers, men and women, if they provided their own planes.

1914 Sept. 25 - Joffre appointed Joseph Bares aviation chief of the French army, and noted that planes bombed the Germans in the Marne battle (adding fins and detonators to artillery shells to make bombs) and helped the artillery spot targets. The first air combat was Oct. 5 when Joseph Frantz and his mechanic in a Voisin pusher with a Hotchkiss machine gun mounted in the front, shot down a German Aviatik biplane. The French began using cameras in planes for reconnaissance.

1914 Dec. 21 - German seaplanes attacked Dover and London Dec. 21 and 24 and 25. The Germans in Sept. had formed the BAO, the Ostend Carrier Pigeon Detachment, to bomb Channel ports in December.

1915 - On Jan. 19, German zeppelins began bombing raids over the British coast. On May 31, the LZ-38 became the first zeppelin to bomb London, but in 1916 England and France pulled fighter planes from the Western Front to attack zeppelins with phosphorous ammunition.

1915 - Germany and France and Britain were the leading air powers in the first year of war. By March, France had 390 planes, including the 130 hp Voison and the 2-engine Caudron G4. In April, Roland Garros developed his armored propeller for machine gun firing, but crashed and the Germans developed the Fokker synchronizing gear by July used in the E-plane. The only plane capable of matching the Fokker was the Nieuport 11 "Bebe" that made up the N65, France's first pursuit squadron, assigned to defend the city of Nancy. The Groupe de Bombardement No. 1, or GB1, was France's first bomber squadron, with Voisin pusher planes that were equipped with the first bomb racks for 155mm artillery shells, also stationed near Nancy in May where they began raids over German factories. They also were used as long-range artillery on night mission, equipped with electric landing lights. The Hispano-Suiza factory near Paris began making the famous 150 hp V8 aluminum block engine that would be widely used in the war.

1915 - For Germany, Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelman became the famous Fokker pilots, often flying in pair together. However, Fokker production was limited in 1915, making only 30 planes per month. Other models such as the Aviatik C-planes helped fill the need for more planes.

1915 - Gen. Hugh Trenchard commanded the RFC in France, sent in planes during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle March 1915. The British RFC developed in August the clock code for artillery placement, using a circular celluloid trace with 12 radial lines to estimate artillery fire, then sent by wireless to spotters on the ground. Lanoe Hawker won the first Victoria Cross for aerial combat by mounting a Lewis gun on the side of his Bristol to miss the propeller, and downed 2 German planes on July 25. The "Fokker scorge" of late 1915 dealt a severe blow to the RFC, losing more planes and pilots than could be replaced, and the 21 Zeppelin raids in 1915 did considerable damage to England. England in late 1915 introduced the phosphorous incindiary bullet, then the tracer bullet by the Brock fireworks company, then the explosive bullet by New Zealander John Pomeroy.

1915 - In Russia, the Sikorskii Grand 2-engine bomber flew with the Squadron of Flying Ships, could carry 1000 lbs of bombs for a 5-hour flight at 10,000 ft. By the end of 1915, the Grands had dropped 10 tons of bombs on German railroads and bridges.

1916 - The battles of Verdun and Somme marked the rise of aerial combat in WWI. Verdun began in Feb. with German air superiority. The French formed 15 elite fighter squadrons in March under Tricornot de Rose, and began operating on patrols in groups of 4-5 planes against German groups of 3-4 planes with great success. The American pilots in Escadrille N124 flew in May at Verdun, in Nieuports, and Kiffin Rockwell scored the squadron's first victory. By June 1, France had 1120 planes at the front. The 8 fighter squadrons at Cachy cleared the skies for the Somme offensive that began July 1. The Allies had 386 fighter planes vs the 129 Germans, and quickly gained air superiority. The RFC dropped 13,000 lbs of bombs in the first 4 days of the Somme, but British pilots flying DH2 and FE2 pushers faced stiff opposition from German fighters, and the average lifespan of a British pilot was 3 weeks. Gen Hugh 'Boom" Trenchard since 1914 had shaped his RFC into an offensive weapon of war. The British pilots at the Somme were overly aggresive, attacking immediately any enemy they saw, unlike the German emphasis on organized tactics. RFC artillery spotting remained superior to the Germans or the French The N3 squadron at Cachy were the famous Storks, had 5 ace pilots , flying the Nieuport 17 rotary engine with Lewis gun on the top wing. However, by Sept. the Germans had the superior single-seat twin-gun Albatross D1 fighter with its molded plywood skin for added strength, and began flying in hunting groups called Jagdstaffeln, or "Jastas," designed specifically for aerial combat. Oswald Boelcke trained Jasta group 2 to fight as a disciplined and organized unit. Boelcke died in a collision crash Oct. 28 having made 40 kills. His leadership of Jasta 2 passed to his star pupil, Manfred con Richthofen. On Nov. 23, von Richthofen flying an Albatross killed England's greatest ace, Lanoe Hawker. The Hindenburg Program of total mobilization increased German production of planes in late 1916, growing to 1000 per month, including the new all-metal Junkers monoplane. The British increased their production of planes, and by the end of the year were beginning to produce the 3 most famous British fighters of the war, the Sopwith Camel, the Bristol, and the SE5. In Dec., the American N124 became the Lafayette Escadrille squadron. Aldis sight in late 1916 had lenses and a glass screen to aim machine gun, but gun still made cone 30 ft diameter at 500 yds, therefore pilot needed to be less than 200 yds from target to hit anything.

1916 - Britain created new Air Board in December, led by Lord Cowdray, the founder of S. Pearson & Son Ltd that built huge construction projects throughout the British empire. The new Board increased the production of aircraft, organized new Home Defence Squadrons under Gen. T. C. R. Higgins.

1917 Feb. - the first Gotha crash-landed and the British learned of this new plane.

1917 - The Aisne offensive at Chemin des Dames was a failure for French aviation, just as it was for the army that ended the offensive in mutiny. Accidents and attrition cost the loss of 700 planes. (p. 198) By August, France had 2335 planes, England had 1980, Germany had 1200. Only half the planes being manufactured in France reached the Front in operational condition. The leading French ace Georges Guynemer had 53 kills after his quadruple victory on may 25. He met often with Spad designer Louis Bechereau and had his own Spad 12 with a 37mm Hotchkiss firing through the propeller. He finally disappeared Sept. 11 during the battle of Flanders. The Lafayette Escadrille lost james McConnell and Emond Genet. There were 200 Americans flying in French units, including the first black combat pilot Eugene "Jacques" Bullard, a veteran of the French Foreign Legion. When the Lafayette Escadrille became the 103rd Squadron on Jan. 1, 1918, Bullard was not allowed to join. French bombers were not allowed to bomb German cities, only to hit military targets closse to the Front. The Farman 40s and Breguet-Michelins and Voisin 8s were slow and out of date, used only for night bombing missions, and many crashed on landing or takeoff.

1917 - German fighter planes were at their best during the Battle of Arras, helped the German army withdraw to the Hindenburg Line. Most the fighters were Albatros D1 or D2, and in March the D3 arrived that was modeled on the wing design of the Nieuport. The German Jastas with 195 planes led by Richthofen destroyed 151 British planes during "Bloody April". Richthofen in his red Albatros D3 surpassed Boelcke on April 13 with 43 kills. At Courtrai on June 23, Richthofen led four Jastas in what came to be known as his Flying Circus that were equipped with the new D5 Albatros witha lighter airframe. In August, Richthofen and a young flier Werner Voss who commanded Jasta 14, both received the new Fokker triplane. Although slow, it had exceptional maneuverability. Voss was killed Sept. 23 when he took on seven British SE5As for 10 minutes, hitting all of them with at least some machine gun bullets before he went down. Reichthofen went back to the D5 biplane due to wing problems with the triplane, but his Circus grew to 72 planes and was successful against the superior numbers of Allied planes.

1917 - During April, the Germans employed the Schustas, or units of planes designed to support the army with grenades and machine guns as Sturmflieger, or storm fliers. The Schustas were especially effective in stopping the British attack at Messines on June 6. They also were effective Nov. 30 at the Battle of Cambrai, when the Germans counterattacked the Schustas at 100 ft. strafed just ahead of the advancing Germans troops, clearing the British trenches, and directing artillery with wireless reports. They received new planes in the summer that were armor-plated, and all-metal Junkers J1s.

1917 - In June Ludendorff began his America Program to develop the Bavarian aircraft factories in meet the expected rise in planes from America. The Bavarian Aircraft Works (BFW) produced copies of the Albatross, and the Junkers-Fokker Works in Dessau made the J monoplane, the Hannover factory made the CL2. The giant R6 was built by the Zeppelin works at Staaken. New engines were ordered from the Opel factory. The Rapp Engine Works in Munich became the Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) in July making a new high compression engine.

On the Aisne front, Germany had 480 planes against the French. The Allies put 840 planes into the Ypres battle Aug-Nov. The air units became essential to the major offensives of the ground armies in 1917. Dogfights took place of up to 100 aircraft flying at 3000 ft in and out of clouds and mist and rain, in AA fire from ground, was chaotic: a "frantic witch's sabbath in the air "with pilots "half-dead, exhausted and worn to tatters by the inhuman strain and the nerve-shattering tumult" according to Capt. Hermann Goering. Many fighter planes had 2 Vickers guns with tracer bullets that fired 8mm/.30 cal shells at 600 per min and drop of only 9 in at 100 yds. But pilots underestimated distance, e.g. 500 yds perceived as 250 yds.

1917 May 25 - The "Gotha summer" of 1917 began when 25 Gotha bombers made first raid on England from fields at St. Denis-Westtrem and Mell-Gontrode, refueled at Nieumunster (each of the 2 Mercedes 260 hp engines consumed 175 gallons on the trip), flew at 15,000 ft, but London clouded over, turned south to attack raIlroad and military camps in Kent, each plane carried seven 50 kg and six 12.5 kg bombs, dropped using Goertz bombsight, hitting the town of Folkestone that was a transportation center. German Gotha bombers were joined by the giant R-planes in September. The raids continued through the end of the year. Jan Smuts was brought to London to recommend reforms, and his report Aug. 17 recommended a single unified indep air service combining army and navy, and the report became law on Nov. 29 that created the RAF. Winston Churchill became Minister of Munitions in 1917, sought to replace attrition of men with a war of machines, "masses of guns, mountains of shells, clouds of aeroplanes." (p. 250)

1917 - The British introduced three improved fighters, the rotary engine Sopwith Camel that excelled at maneuverability, the SE5 with its 200 hp Hispano-Suiza inline engine was faster and steadier than the Camel, and the Bristol F2 two-seat reconnaissance plane. In October, the British formed the 41st Wing that used big Handley Page bombers in night raids against German installations. The British sent fighter squadrons to the Middle East that gained air superiority over Palestine.

1917 - The U.S. entered the war with only 142 planes. The Navy sent the first units to France and in Sept. they began flying French Le Tellier seaplanes to excort convoys to Saint Nazaire. The Navy began constructing a fleet of Curtis HS1 seaplanes. But the Dayton-Wright company was still building the DH4 for a Liberty engine when the war ended. The Curtiss compant failed to manufacture a version of the Spad. Billy Mitchell became Pershing's aviation chief June 30, and supported the strategic offensive use of aviation advocated by Hugh Trenchard in Britain and by Caproni and Douhet in Italy. American pilots were trained at the italian school at Foggia in Sept., and in Oct. another group including first-termn congressman Fiorella La Guardia arrived for training.

1918 - The French on Apr. 1 had 2750 planes at the front and 581 planes in reserve; the fighters were Spad 7s and 13s and Breguets. The French also provided the Americans with 1430 planes during the year. In 1918 the French trained 6909 pilots. French ace Rene Fonck would have 75 kills by the end of the war, preferred individual combat, twice shot down six planes in one day. During the German offensive in March, French bombers dropped 1200 tons of bombs, far more than in previous 2 years. The French had 2 squadrons of Caproni night bomber squadrons, but the 900 hp Caproni was nose heavy and set gas tanks on fire from engine exhaust flames. The bombers were escorted by heavily armored three-seat twin-engine Caudron R11s or Breguets. Billy Mitchell would have 1400 planes for the St. Mihiel offensive

1918 - The Germans on Apr. 1 had 3668 planes on the western front vs Allies' 4500 planes. The German Rumpler C7 with the high compression 260 hp Maybach engine was the best reconnaissance plane flying, able to reach 20,000 ft at 100 mph, and take 3 photos per minute with automatic cameras. The Fokker D7 was introduced in May with a BMW engine that gave it the fastest climb rate, 16 min to reach 5000 meters, and the D7 was considered the best fighter plane of WWI

1918 - When Brit attacked Amiens in August, special Sopwith Camel squadrons protectd tanks from German antitank guns. The British had adopted the lowflying ground attack tactics of the German Schustas using the Sopwith Camel. About 25% of the pilots on the western front in the RAF were Canadian. Casualties were high for the RAF, losing 7000 men in 1918. Only 25% of the pilots completed a tour of duty of 8 months. The great strength of the RAF was the large number of planes produced, 15,000 in 1917 and 32,000 in 1918, but the RAF lacked engine factories. Imported engines such as the mass-produced Liberty made up the deficit of engines that British factories were unable to make up. At the end of the war, Britain had the world's largest aviation industry and air force.

1918 - the U.S. had 13 squadrons operating by June, flying Nieuport 28s and Breguet bombers. In Sept., Mitchell commanded 1481 planes, half flown by Americans. At the end of the war, the U. S. Air Service had received 6624 planes, most from the French, and 1440 DH4s from the U. S. The Breguet was faster than the old DH4s, had metal frames rather than wood, and flew at high altitudes. The DH4 was called "the Flaming Coffin" because it did not have self-sealing gas tanks like the French planes. Also, the wood frame was too fragile for the powerful Liberty engine. About one of three U. S. pilots were killed. The U.S. delivered 15,572 liberty V12 400 hp engines during the last year of the war.

1918 -The most significant use of aviation in the war was tactical, in support of ground operations. Only Germany carried out a strategic bombing program.




revised 9/13/06 by Steven Schoenherr | WWI Timeline | Links | Topics | Maps | Reserve