These recently released Library of Congress photographs, part of the the George Grantham Bain Collection, show World War I aviation in its infancy. Military aviation has come a long way from the early days of World War I, when figuring out how not to shoot your airplane’s propeller off was the pressing question of the time. With the possibly transformational flight operations of the X-47B UCAS-D launching from and trapping aboard the USS George H.W. Bush, these photographs are a good reminder of just how far military aviation has come since World War I.
Early Days of World War I Aviation l Photos
German aviators near Rheims, France. World War I pilots were seen as gallant heroes and caught the public imagination. In a war that quickly became a muddy stalemate, air warfare seemed glamorous. Library of Congress photo What appears to be an unarmed German Albatros B.I in Poland during World War I. Airplanes were used primarily for aerial reconnaissance during the early days of World War I. Library of Congress photo An early German Pfeil-Eindecker that was designed by Albert Ziegler. The Pfeil-Eindecker was first flown during the summer of 1913 and was described as a stable and steerable aircraft. Unfortunately, stable aircraft were often too stable to be able to maneuver away from more agile opponents. Library of Congress photo A German Albatros B.II pilot is handed his orders by an officer. Early aircraft were limited to photographic reconnaissance, artillery spotting, and contact patrols, which were attempts to follow the progress of a battle and communicate with front line troops. That's a radiator for the liquid-cooled Mercedes inline-6 engine exposed on the right side of the fuselage. Library of Congress photo The pioneering Swiss aviator Ernst Burri is pictured on horseback next to his biplane in Bulgaria, ca. Jan. 1913. Burri flew for the French in World War I. The airplane is a Sommer R-3 prototype, a biplane used for reconnaissance by the Bulgarian Army. Bueri spent about eight months as a flight instructor in Bulgaria. Library of Congress photo German officers talk with a pilot by his airplane. Pilots achieved almost celebrity status. The pilot's fur coat was no affectation, but rather an attempt to stay warm in an open cockpit. Probably both. Library of Congress photo A captured French Deperdussin TT monoplane. Small numbers were used briefly by the Aviation Militaire in the early days of World War I, but suffered from a fragile airframe. The two-seater's gunner stood in a mount situated between the A-frames behind the engine, which was not successful. The aircraft were phased out by the end of 1914. Library of Congress photo The German Zeppelin LZ 16 shown on the cavalry parade ground at Luneville, France, in April 1913, where it landed after getting lost in conditions of poor visibility. LZ 16 flew reconnaissance over East Prussia in August 1914 and bombed Warsaw in September. Library of Congress photo A German machine gun crew keep their eyes open for Allied aircraft with a field-expedient anti-aircraft mount created by propping a regular tripod up on the side of a trench. As aircraft uses evolved, however, so did anti-aircraft technology. Library of Congress photo A Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2a. According to the partially deleted caption, in German hands. This photo was taken early in the war before the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) adopted the roundel marking in late 1915. The observer sat in the front cockpit, so even when the aircraft was armed, the field of fire was dismal. Library of Congress photo A German Friedrichshafen FF.33 two-seat reconnaissance biplane is eased into the water. Floatplanes and flying boats were a significant part of World War I aviation, and there were a number of seaplane aces. Library of Congress photo A French Morane-Saulnier Type L captured by the Germans during World War I. The Type L became one of the first successful fighters in the world thanks to the addition of armored deflector wedges to the propeller, which allowed French pilot Roland Garros to fire its single machine gunthrough the arc of the propeller. Library of Congress photo An Albatros is transported in the vicinity of Arras, France. Not much is known about this photograph, but aircraft that were forced to land near the front due to mechanical issues had to be hauled back to their base. Library of Congress photo A German soldier guards a wrecked airplane that appears to be a Farman HF.20. The HF.20 was underpowered and quickly relegated to secondary fronts. Library of Congress photo The British and French weren't the only ones to employ pusher aircraft, so named because of the rear-mounted propeller. Here a German Otto pusher takes off from a wooden runway during the early days of the war. Library of Congress photo A German captured R.E.P. 'Parasol' Type monoplane. Designed by Frenchman Robert Esnault-Pelterie, the 'Parasol' was a reconnaissance aircraft used fleetingly by the Royal Naval Air Service during the early days of World War I. Library of Congress photo A Japanese army-operated French manufactured Farman MF.7. A Japanese MF.7 was shot down by the only German airplane present during the Siege of Tsingtao. Library of Congress photo