The Great War Begins

Blériot XI - 1914
French Blériot XI Scout Plane circa 1914

Although slow and fragile the unarmed Blériot XI served as reconnossaince aircraft were used by the French, British, and Italian armed forces in the early period of World War One.

Gearing Up For War

At the start of the first World War in August of 1914, the airplane was only a little more than ten years old. The Blériot XI type, in which its namesake first negotiated the English channel successfully, was only five years old. It had first gone to war in 1911 with Italian forces in North Africa.

The Blériot XI Enters Military Service

At the outbreak of war, the British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) brought twenty-three Blériot XI’s with them into France along with its expeditionary force; they served as reconnossaince aircraft with six RFC squadrons.The French Service de l’Aviation also furnished Bleriots to eight of their escadrilles, and Italy went into action with their own previously acquired Blériot XI’s in six squadrons.

The Beginning of Aerial Warfare

RAF SE.2 - 1913
RAF SE.2 – 1913

The Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.2 (Scout Experimental) was an early British single-seat scout aircraft. Designed and built at the Royal Aircraft Factory in 1913 as the B.S.1, the prototype was rebuilt several times before serving with the Royal Flying Corps, being operated over the Western Front in the early months of the First World War.

The first airplanes were not looked upon as weapons of destruction, but as “scouts”. Even at the end of the war, the fighter types, such as the Sopwith Snipe and Fokker D8, were still classified as scouts. Although horses were used to scout out the enemies’ wherabouts, the airplane had a much more freedom of movement, and, unharrassed by the enemy, could monitor the enemies’ movement and positions from a great altitude.

At the start of the war, planes on either side were unarmed, and pilots from opposing sides would wave and smile at each other as they flew by each other, in a sort of “comraderie of the sky”. This harmony between pilots would not last for long, though. The first pilot to attack his opponent in the air is not recorded, but it most likely happened like this-a pilot whose friendly smile was answered by a thumbed nose or other rude gesture carried bricks or some other type of missile up with him on his next mission and gleefully dropped it on the first unsuspecting opponent he came across. Soon pilots began carrying rifles and pistols into the air and traded shots.