Even Before Columbus Air Power Began, Europe Had Started

How did fighter planes evolve from rickety biplanes to deadly machines during WWI?

How did early fighter planes evolve from rickety biplanes into deadly combat machines during WWI?

Click on the above photo to watch this well done PBS NOVA documentary.  LENGTH:   52 Minutes

Thanks to PBS’ TV Show NOVA, we have this insightful peek into the machinations of what took place throughout Europe, as the fires of WWI were first lit aflame in 1914, only 11 years after the Wright brothers’ first flight – – – but a good year before the 1st Aero Squadron deployed to Columbus in pursuit of both Pancho Villa and the proof of the airplane’s practicability in military combat.  While not a short video, you’ll enjoy this documentary’s quality and educational content.

When World War I began in 1914, the aviation branches of the opposing nations consisted of handfuls of rickety biplanes from which the pilots might occasionally take pot shots at one another with their rifles.  In fact, the initial air combatants first exhibited a sort of cavalier spirit, not unlike the jousting spirit of European antiquity; more like a friendly sporting competition than a serious life and death struggle. But as time wore on, the bloody and ruthless violence of the trenches down below soon began to contaminate the skies, as well.

But, by the war’s end, the basic blueprint of the modern fighter plane had emerged:  it was now an effective killing machine, and the young men who flew these ships experienced an average life expectancy over the front lines of only few weeks.  Air warfare had lost its early glamour and had been transformed into an exceptionally deadly occupation.

To trace the history of this astonishingly rapid technological revolution, NOVA takes viewers inside The Vintage Aviator, a New Zealand-based group of aviation buffs dedicated to bringing back classic WWI fighters such as the SE5A and the Albatross DV.  NOVA joins this eclectic team of aviator historians as they discover the secrets of some of aviation’s most colorful yet  deadly early flying machines – – – and explores how their impact eventually played a key role in the nightmare of slaughter on the Western Front.

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