For those of us that weren’t able to experience this time in history, seeing the slew of planes during the early years of flight up close, can be just as inspiring and quite overwhelming.
This week I’ll be featuring some of the world’s earliest airplanes and aircraft. Instead of bombarding your brain with hundreds of fighters, flyers, monoplanes and biplanes, I decided to break it up a bit and let you enjoy all of the early years of flight throughout the week.
Wright 1903 Flyer
I was fortunate enough to see a very significant, at least I believe, part of the 1903 Wright Flyer. The fabric preserved by the Wright Family came from the left half of the lower wing. The piece of fabric was presented by the Wright Brother’s Family Members on December 17, 1981, in celebration of their historic flight.
Curtiss 1911 Model D
On April 27, 1911, the Signal Corps Airplane No. 2 was accepted at Fort Same Houston, Texas to be used by the Army. The aircraft on display at the National Air Force Museum is a reproduction, completed in 1987. The original drawings weren’t available therefore details were gathered from an existing factory-built Curtiss pusher and from recent drawings. “Except for the engine, which is made of wood and plastic, all materials used in the reproduction are essentially the same as those used in the original.”
Fokker Dr. I Triplane
Von Richthofen score 19 of his last 21 victories were achieved while he was flying the Dr. I. By May 1918, however, the Dr. I was being replaced by the newer and faster Fokker D. VII. Although Fokker built a total of 320 Dr. Is, none have survived. This reproduction is painted to represent the aircraft flown by Lt. Arthur Rahn in April 1918 when he served with Jagdstaffel 19. Lt. Rahn is credited with six confirmed victories.
Sopwith Camel F-1
The British Sopwith Camel F-1 shot down more enemy aircraft than any other World War I fighter. The Sopwith was difficult to defeat and highly maneuverable, yet it still has substantial drawbacks. More men lost their lives while learning to fly it than died while using it in combat. There are very few Sopwith Camel F-1s in existence today therefore the museum constructed a model from the original WWI factory drawings, completing it in 1974. The aircraft is painted and marked as the Camel flown by Lt. George A. Vaughn Jr., 17th Aero Squadron.
Kettering Aerial Torpedo “Bug”
G-3 Target Glider
The G-3 operated as “live-fire aerial targets” for fighter and attack aircraft into the early 1930s. Because it could be adjusted to fly a straight, circular or random course, the target glider provided a more effective training tool than the traditional towed target sock. For aerial gunnery training, a pilot carried his target glider aloft. After release, the glider took several minutes to reach the ground. During this time, the pilot could make several gunnery passes against it.
Curtiss P-6E Hawk
Caquot Type R Observation Balloon
We’ve seen the balloons at football games or watched video footage of the Hindenburg, but these tethered balloon aircraft used during World War I had a somewhat different purpose.
The British used it for parachute testing and noncombat aerial observation and photography until 1960. The British Ministry of Defense, Royal Aircraft Establishment, presented the Caquot to the museum after it was located with the aid of American and British WWI balloon veterans in 1975. Assisted by the Goodyear Aerospace Corp. of Akron, Ohio, which had produced these balloons during WWI, museum personnel mended and sealed the balloon fabric and prepared it for inflation. It was placed on display in May 1979.
During World War I, observation aircraft provided ground commanders with vital reconnaissance information, and throughout the interwar years, commanders of U.S. Army ground forces demanded adequate observation support. However, most ground commanders anticipated fighting a static or slow-moving war, and the observation aircraft purchased during the 1920s and early 1930s differed little from those flown over France in 1918.
Ladd Field became famous during World War II as the place from where American-built aircraft flew to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program. This aircraft flew various missions until it crashed on June 16, 1941, due to engine failure about 70 miles southeast of Fairbanks. Uninjured, the pilot, Lt. Milton H. Ashkins, and his mechanic, Sgt. R.A. Roberts, hiked to safety after supplies were dropped to them. The abandoned aircraft remained in the Alaskan wilderness until the museum arranged for its recovery by helicopter in June 1968. Despite being exposed to the Alaskan weather for 27 years, the aircraft remained in remarkable condition. Only the wings required extensive restoration.
Gen. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, who called the B-10 "the air power wonder of its day," led 10 B-10s on a 8,290-mile flight from Washington, D.C., to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back in 1934. By the late 1930s, B-17s and B-18s had replaced the Air Corps' B-10s and B-12s, but the Chinese and Dutch air forces flew export versions in combat against Japan at the start of World War II.
The Northrop A-17A series was a direct descendent of the Northrop "Gamma," made famous by the aerial explorer Lincoln Ellsworth. It was the last of the pre-World War II single-engine attack airplane ordered into production by the Army Air Corps. The A-17 was never fully tested in peacetime exercises or in combat. In 1938 the Army Air Corps determined that all future attack aircraft procured would be multi-engine models therefore its fate was sealed. The A-17's design figured prominently in the success of a distinguished line of Douglas aircraft even considering its handicap. The Northrop was able to carry one ton of bombs on external racks which featured vertical chutes. The chutes held up to 20 30-pound fragmentation bombs. “In addition to the bombs, the A-17A was armed with four forward-firing .30-cal. machine guns for strafing, and one flexible mounted .30-cal. gun in the rear cockpit for self-defense.”
In June 1940, all but 20 A-17As were sold overseas and the remaining Army Air Forces A-17 and A-17As were used as advanced trainers and squadron support aircraft, most ending up as ground maintenance trainers. The last A-17A was written off of Army Air Forces records in early 1945.
The aircraft on display at the USAF National Museum is the only A-17 series aircraft known to exist. It was delivered to the Air Corps and assigned to Barksdale Field, La., on June 25, 1937. Following a brief stay at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, the aircraft was assigned in April 1940 to Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., and also served as a support aircraft for U.S. Military attaches in Honduras, Guatemala and Haiti. The aircraft was dropped from Army Air Forces records in January 1945.
Read the Entire Series:
- Part One: Early years of Flight
- Part Two: Schneider Schulgleiter SG 38
- Part Three: Halberstadt CL IV
Also check out:Although Kitty Hawk North Carolina would become home to the first manned flight of human kind, the Germans would take these physical parameters into a whole new realm. As the skies offered another battlefield in which to kill and mame, countries that did not embrace this new arena were quickly left behind. During the first world war, the Germans would gain an early edge over most of the Allies as concerned with WWI aircraft. Planes used during World War I became designed around the many German models, which would help the Allies win many later battles of the global war. There are many WWI planes that were important during the war although some played far greater roles than others.
Read more: Planes used during World War I
Strategic missiles at The National Museum of the United States Air ForceTourists fly in from all around the world to visit the National Museum of the United States Air Force and who could blame them. The museum is completely free, only taking donations if you’re willing to spare a cent, and all this for a weeks worth of military history. It took me several days to walk the museum, spending most of my time with the Planes from WWI and aircraft from WW2. One of my favorite hangers in the museum is the space gallery, and the focal point is a round room featuring massive strategic missiles.
Read More: Ballistic Missiles at Wright Patterson Air Force Base
Caesar’s Creek Ordovician Fossil HuntingWhen I was a child growing up in Ohio, my class would take yearly fieldtrips to the Caesar’s Creek Spill off to go fossil hunting. As a child, it was hard to stay focused on the task at hand. We would never read the signs stating we had to leave behind the fossils bigger than our palms, and now that I’m older, I can appreciate why the signs were posted.
Read more: Caesar’s Creek Ordovician Fossil Hunting
Shoo Shoo Baby: B17G At Wright Patterson Air Force BaseSo before I start sharing, I wanted to start off the Wright Patterson Air Force Base Series with the Shoo Shoo Baby B-17G. For those of you plane and aircraft enthusiasts, you already know the B17G Flying Fortress was one of the most famous airplanes ever built. The B17G prototype first flew on June 28, 1935, yet few of the B-17 flying fortresses were flying prior to the United States’ entrance into World War II.
Read more:Shoo Shoo Baby: B17G At Wright Patterson Air Force Base
All quotes are courtesy and © of the National Museum of United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.