The Evolution Of World War II Fighter Aircraft

Wright 1909 Flyer

First U.S. Army Signal Corp Airplane

1909 Wright Flyer, Army Personell

Wright military flyer of 1909, airplane built by Wilbur and Orville Wright and sold to the U.S. Army Signal Corps in July 1909. It was the world’s first military airplane. For the Wright brothers, it represented a first step in their efforts to produce marketable aircraft incorporating the principles that they had employed six years earlier in achieving the first powered heavier-than-air flight. The 1909 flyer was similar to a series of aircraft that were produced by the Wrights in Dayton, Ohio, from 1907 to 1909 and are now known by the designation “Model A.” Like the other Wright machines, it was a biplane design employing the “wing-warping” control system and stabilized in the pitch axis by a horizontal stabilizer positioned forward of the wings. Twin pusher propellers were turned through a chain drive by a four-cylinder engine that generated up to 32 horsepower. The airplane was launched into the air by a weight falling from the top of a derrick. The Army’s performance specifications called for an observation craft that would keep a pilot and passenger aloft for more than one hour and fly at an average speed of 40 miles (65 km) per hour. A throng of 10,000 people, including President William Howard Taft, gathered at Fort Myer, Va., on July 27, 1909, to watch Orville complete one of the final qualifying flights for the sale. The event was filmed by famed inventor, Thomas Edison. Lieutenant Frank Purdy Lahm joined Orville for a flight of 1 hour 12 min. 374/5 sec., setting a new world’s duration record for flight with a passenger.

First Pilot Trainees

image of pilot trainee, Lt. Henry Arnold

Army Lt. Henry Arnold

image of pilot trainee, Philip Parmelee

Civilian Philip Parmelee

image of pilot trainee, Lt. John Rodgers

Navy Lt. John Rodgers

image of pilot trainee, Lt. Thomas Dewitt

Army Lt. Thomas Dewitt

The beginings Of The Aerospace Industry

Bleriot airplane, single-wing, single-engine, fighter

Origin of the aerospace industry dates to 1903 when Wilbur and Orville Wright demonstrated an airplane capable of powered, sustained flight (see Wright flyer of 1903). The Wright brothers’ success was due to detailed research and an excellent engineering-and-development approach.

Their breakthrough innovation was a pilot-operated warping (twisting) of the wings to provide attitude control and to make turns. Patents with broad claims for their wing-warping technology were granted in Europe in 1904 and in the United States in 1906. The French government was the first to negotiate with the Wright brothers for the sale of their patents for 1,000,000 francs, with a deposit of 25,000 francs for the option, which was later forfeited. The first recorded business transaction of the aerospace industry occurred in May 1906 when J.P. Morgan and Company in New York City paid the Wright brothers the forfeited deposit. The first sale of a military aircraft was made on February 8, 1908, when the Wright brothers contracted to provide one Model A flyer (see Wright military flyer of 1909) to the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army for $25,000, with a $5,000 bonus should it exceed the speed requirement of 40 miles (65 km) per hour.following year the aircraft successfully completed qualifying trials for completion of the sale, which included the bonus.

In March 1909 the British entrepreneurs Eustace, Horace, and Oswald Short purchased a license to produce six Wright flyers and set up the company Short Brothers Limited on the Isle of Sheppey, establishing the world’s first assembly line for aircraft. In the same year the American aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss joined the list of airplane producers and made the first commercial sale of an aircraft in the United States. In France, Henri Farman, Louis Blériot, Gabriel and Charles Voisin, and Léon Levavasseur entered the industry, and experimental groups started airplane production in Germany and Russia. When Blériot crossed the English Channel in July 1909 in his Blériot XI monoplane, the ensuing fame resulted in worldwide orders for more than 100 aircraft. In 1909, when the Wright Company was incorporated with a capitalization of $1,000,000, the Wright brothers received $100,000, 40 percent of the stock, and a 10 percent royalty on every plane sold. The company developed extensive financial interests in aviation during those early years but, counter to the recommendations of its financiers, did not establish a tight monopoly.

The War To End All Wars

Foker-Dr1 single-seat, single-engine, Tri-plane, fighter

(German-Fokker Dr1)The first dogfights between aircraft occurred in mid-1915. “Fighting scout” planes had begun to accompany artillery spotter and reconnaissance aircraft. As the fighters of each side tried to attack the planes defended by the other, combat between fighters began. Fabric Skin. Most fighter planes of WWI were enclosed in a compact layer of material.

During most of the war, biplanes were used. Two sets of wings gave them more lift and stability than a single pair did. The British government banned the Royal Flying Corps from using monoplanes, as pre-war experiments seemed to indicate they were unstable and unsafe to use. The success of biplanes led to experiments with three-winged triplanes.

The Fokker Dr.I and Sopwith Triplane were both successes. The Fokker triplane, which achieved excellent maneuverability and rate of climb at the cost of reduced speed, was the favorite plane of Manfred von Richthofen, the famous Red Baron. When a fault led to the withdrawal of most of those planes, Anthony Fokker presented Richthofen with a stronger model so he could keep flying it. To make fighter planes more effective, they needed forward firing guns lined up with the pilot’s view, to enable them to aim easily while flying. It created a problem. The closer it was to his line of sight, the more likely the gun was to shoot off the plane’s own propeller. The French made the first attempt to solve it. The propeller was reinforced with steel wedges to deflect bullets, but they could still do harm to the propeller, and the ones that bounced off might hit the pilot. In 1915, Dutch engineer Anthony Fokker provided the solution for the Germans. His interrupter gear interacted with the gun’s mechanism, stopping it from firing when a propeller was in front of the barrel. It could still fire in the split seconds in between. In July 1915, the Fokker EI plane entered the war, and German planes became proper war machines. Their opponents soon developed equivalents, based in part on Fokker’s work.

Duel In The Sky

M5K airplane, single-seat, single-engine, single-wing, fighter

(German-M5K)Initially air combat was extremely rare, and definitely subordinate to reconnaissance. There are even stories of the crew of rival reconnaissance aircraft exchanging nothing more belligerent than smiles and waves. This soon progressed to throwing grenades, and other objects – even grappling hooks. The first aircraft brought down by another was an Austrian reconnaissance aircraft rammed on 8 September 1914 by Russian pilot Pyotr Nesterov in Galicia in the Eastern Front.

Both planes crashed as the result of the attack killing all occupants. Eventually pilots began firing handheld firearms at enemy aircraft, however pistols were too inaccurate and the single shot rifles too unlikely to score firearms at enemy aircraft, however pistols were too inaccurate and the single shot rifles too unlikely to score firearms at enemy aircraft, however pistols were too inaccurate and the single shot rifles too unlikely to score firearms at enemy aircraft, however pistols were too inaccurate and the single shot rifles too unlikely to score firearms at enemy aircraft, however pistols were too inaccurate and the single shot rifles too unlikely to score a hit. On October 5, 1914, French pilot Louis Quenault opened fire on a German aircraft with a machine gun for the first time and the era of air combat was under way as more and more aircraft were fitted with machine guns.

Other modifications soon followed. Moving the engine from the rear of the plane, which was known as a pusher configuration, to the front of the aircraft. An important drawback was that pusher designs tended to have an inferior performance to tractor types with the same engine power because of the extra drag created by the struts and rigging necessary to carry the tail unit. They were simply too slow to catch their quarry. Another was the wings themselves. A single wing configuration known as a mono wing design and a two wing configuration known as biplane. And a monsterous three wing triplane was developed by both sides.

Aces High

Sopwith-Camel, single-seat, single-engine, Biplane, fighter

(British-Sopwith Camel)The term flying ace was first used by French newspapers during World War I, describing Adolphe Pégoud as l'as (the ace), after he downed five German aircraft. When aircraft began to shoot or force down other aircraft, systems to count "air victories" were subsequently developed. Lone aerial combat provided an outlet for acts of personal bravery. The aces were seen as chivalrous heroes engaged in honest and impressive one-to-one fighting. However, the lives of air aces were often cut short through combat or because of mechanical failure. This only fuelled their status as heroic martyrs. Of the eight aces listed here, seven were killed in action between 1916 and 1918 or died in flying accidents during or after the war.

Before the Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen was Germany's air power hero, it was Oscar Boelcke, a German air ace and the mentor to von Richthofen and the "Flying Circus." Boelcke was one of Germany's first fighter aces and, when he took command of a group of fighters, he did all that he could to pass on the knowledge that would keep the men alive. He came up with eight rules that would stand for decades, and most still apply today. There were multiple versions of the rules, all with variations in wording. Many of Boelcke's concepts, conceived in 1916, are still applicable today, including use of sun and altitude, surprise attack, and turning to meet a threat. But they all carried the same eight sentiments.

Despite the German's early lead in combat tactics and their 'Dicta Boelcke' the Allies were not slow to adapt and develop their own tactics. The Royal Flying Corps' Albert Ball was one of a band of pilots who liked to fly solo and he developed 'stalking' tactics for going after enemy two-seaters. He even used his Lewis gun in its top wing adjustable Foster mounting to fire upwards into the underside of unsuspecting enemy aircraft. Other RFC pilots such as James McCudden and Mick Mannock emphasised mutual support and the advantages of attacking from height. Mannock expressed this in a list of aerial combat rules that were similar to Boelcke's.

Legendary WWI Pilots

image of German pilot,  Manford Von Richthofen

GER - Manfred Von Richthofen


France - Renee Fonck

image of British pilot, William Bishop

Canada - William Bishop

image of US pilot, Eddie Rickenbacher

US - Eddie Rickenbacker

image of German pilot, Oswald Boelcke

GER - Oswald Boelcke

image of French pilot, Georges Guynemer

France - Georges Guynemer

image of US piot, Frank Luke

US - Frank Luke, Jr

image of British pilot, James McCudden

UK - James McCudden

image of Russian pilot, Ivan Orlov

Russia - Ivan Orlov

image of Belgian Pilot, Edmond Thieffry

Belgium - Edmond Thieffry

image of Itallian pilot, Silvio Scaroni

Italy - Silvio Scaroni

image of African American pilot flying for France

France - Eugene Bullard

WW1 Spotlight

René Fonck

lee lee1 la3

Born in Saulcy-le-Meurthe on March 27, 1894, René Fonck grew to be a rather short, unremarkable-looking young man whose own self-serving writings suggest ambitions at least partially driven by an inferiority complex. He claimed that his upbringing in the Alsace-Lorraine region, seized by the Germans after the humiliating Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, had imbued him with a desire for revenge. When World War I broke out, he was mobilized on August 22, 1914, and assigned to the 2nd Groupe d’Aviation at Dijon. He was transferred to an engineer unit a month later, but by then Fonck had made up his mind that the new and rapidly developing airplane was his most promising ticket to glory. On February 15, 1915, he managed to get reassigned to St.-Cyr for flight training.

After earning his pilot’s brevet at Le Crotoy, on June 15 Corporal Fonck was assigned to Escadrille (squadron) C.47 based at Corcieux, not far from his hometown. Fonck considered the unit’s Caudron G.3s “slow and cumbersome,” and after encountering a German plane while returning from reconnaissance over Colmar, he wrote that he “no longer took off without carrying a good carbine.” On July 2, Fonck attacked an enemy plane over Münster, but the German retired none the worse for wear. He had several other inconclusive aerial encounters and survived having his engine disabled by an anti-aircraft shell burst, which compelled him to force-land in Allied lines.

Later in the war Fonck obtained a new plane, naturally; a brand-new Spad with which I promised myself to do a great job,” wrote Fonck. It took him and his mechanics two days to get the aircraft performing to his satisfaction, but his careful preparations paid off on May 5, when he and three comrades encountered five Albatros D.IIIs over Laon. Sergeant Pierre Schmitter’s plane was hit, and Sergeant Claude Haegelen and Lieutenant Pierre Henri Hervet were hard-pressed when Fonck intervened and fired point-blank at a German who suddenly emerged from a cloud in front of him. “His plane immediately nose-dived to a crash at the corner of a wooded area,” Fonck wrote. His victim, Warrant Officer Anton Dierle of Jagdstaffel (fighter squadron, or Jasta) 24, was killed.

In seeming contradiction to his grating personality, Fonck’s lifestyle was arguably among the most sensible for a fighter pilot of his time. While Guynemer flew relentlessly, and third-ranking French ace Charles Nungesser alternated between fighting, womanizing and drinking, getting barely two hours of sleep at night, Fonck rested between missions, drank moderately and spent much of his leisure time practicing his marksmanship. Fonck downed an Albatros on May 11, and scored his ace-making fifth victory two days later. He added only one more plane to his score over the next two months, but as Fonck described it, it was not without significance.

On September 11, 1917, Captain Georges Guynemer, victor over 53 German aircraft since 1915, did not return from a patrol. Everyone in GC.12 swore revenge, including Fonck. On September 14, he destroyed a two-seater in flames over Langemarck. “Such was the funeral of Guynemer to me,” he later wrote. GC.12 left Flanders for Maisonneuve on November 11, and moved to Beauzée-sur-Aire on January 17,1918. By then the group had given up the last of its Nieuports and its squadrons had been redesignated accordingly, including Fonck’s Spa.103. he new year brought new fighters to the group in the form of the Spad XIII, equipped with a 220-hp geared Hispano-Suiza 8B engine and twin machine guns. Ordered into production back in February 1917, the Spad XIII boasted a maximum speed of 124 mph and a climb rate of 13,000 feet in 11 minutes.

Fonck eventually claimed 11 victories in the Spad XII, of which seven were confirmed. Throughout the summer of 1918, his score rose steadily—often by two or three victories a day. During the last German assault over the Marne River, begun on July 14, he downed two planes on July 16, two more on the 18th and three on the 19th as the French army counterattacked. A two-seater on August 1 was followed on August 14 by three more—within 10 seconds. “They came toward me following each other at 50-meter intervals,” Fonck explained. “Upon crossing them, I cut loose a burst at each one, and each time my bullets hit their target. They fell near the city of Roye and ended up by burning on the ground, separated by less than 100 meters. These were my fifty-eighth, fifty-ninth and sixtieth official Boches.” By the end of the war Fonck had accumulated 75 confirmed victories—and 52 unconfirmed—Fonck was the undisputed Allied ace of aces, yet he never received the adulation bestowed upon Guynemer and Nungesser.