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NIEUPORT II Guillows Kit #203

The small Nieuport 11 biplane was affectionately known as the "Bébé" (baby). The Nieuport was originally designed for racing; this light plane was fast and extremely maneuverable and was the first combat airplane to carry the famed "Lafayette Escadrille" into battle. Official entry into battle: 6:00 AM April 20, 1916.

Almost as soon as they were invented, planes were drafted for military service. The first country to use planes for military purposes was Bulgaria, whose planes attacked and reconnoitred the Ottoman positions during the First Balkan War 1912-13. The first war to see major use of planes in offensive, defensive and reconnaissance capabilities was World War I. The Allies and Central Powers both used planes extensively. The best plane of the war is generally agreed to be the Sopwith Camel; it was more manuverable and could carry more ordinance than other planes. Aviators were styled as modern day knights, doing individual combat with their enemies. Several pilots became famous for their air to air combants. The most well known to day is the Red Baron who is also called the ace of aces, having shot down 80 planes in air to air combat with several different planes, the most celebrated of which was the Fokker Dr.I. His record of air to air kills still stands today. On the allied side Eddie Rickenbacker was the best pilot of the time, flying a Neiwport, a French manufactured airplane.

While the concept of using the aeroplane as a weapon of war was generally laughed at before World War I, the idea of using it for photography was one that was not lost on any of the major forces. All of the major forces in Europe had light aircraft, typically derived from pre-war sporting designs, attached to their reconnaissance departments. While early efforts were hampered by the light loads carried, improved two-seat designs soon appeared that were entirely practical.

And with the arrival of practical reconnaissance aircraft came the problem of the enemy's practical reconnaissance aircraft. It was not long before aircraft were shooting at each other, but the lack of any sort of steady point to aim from made such efforts comical. The French made a more serious effort to solve this problem, and in late 1914 Roland Garros had attached a fixed machine gun to the front of his plane, allowing him to aim and fly with the same actions. Although he was shot down and captured, he became the first "ace", and succeeded in starting the air war.

The years between World War I and World War II saw a large advancement in aircraft technology.

Airplanes went from being constructed of mostly wood and canvas to being constructed almost entirely of aluminium. Engine development proceeded apace, with engines moving from in-line water cooled gasoline engines to rotary air cooled engines, with a commensurate increase in propulsive power. Pushing all of this forward were a series of prizes for various distance and speed records. For example Charles Lindbergh took the Orteig Prize of $25,000 for his solo non-stop crossing of the Atlantic, the first person to achieve this, although not the first to carry out a non-stop crossing. That was achieved eight years earlier when Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Brown co-piloted a Vickers Vimy nonstop from St. John's, Newfoundland to Clifden, Ireland on June 14, 1919, winning the £10,000 ($50,000) Northcliffe prize in the process.

After WWI there were many experienced fighter pilots who were eager to show off their new skills. Many American pilots became barnstormers, flying into small towns across the country and showing off their flying skills, as well as taking paying passengers for rides. Eventually the barnstormers grouped into more organized displays of their prowess. A series of air shows sprang up around the country, with air races, acrobatic stunts, and feats of air superiority being the main attraction. The air races drove engine and airframe development - the Schneider Trophy for example led to a series of ever faster and sleeker monoplane designs culminating in the Supermarine S.6B, a direct forerunner of the Spitfire. With pilots competing for cash prizes, there was more incentive to go faster than just personal prestige. Amelia Earhart was perhaps the most famous of those on the barnstorming/air show circuit. She was also the first female pilot to achieve many records such as crossing of the Atlantic, English channel, etc

On the lighter-than-air front, the first crossings of the Atlantic were made by airship in July 1919 by His Majesty's Airship R34 and crew when they flew from East Lothian, Scotland to Long Island, New York and then back to Pulham, England. By 1929, airship technology had advanced to the point that the first round-the-world flight was completed by the Graf Zeppelin in September and in October, the same aircraft inaugurated the first commercial transatlantic service. However the age of the dirigible ended in 1937 with the terrible fire aboard the Zeppelin Hindenburg. After the now famous footage of the Hindenburg crashing and burning on the Lakehurst, New Jersey, landing field, people simply stopped using airships, despite the fact that most people on board survived, and the Hindenburg disaster was the only such disaster with a lighter-than-air ship to claim civilian lives.

In the 1930s development of the jet engine began in Germany and in England. In England Frank Whittle patented a design for a jet engine in 1930 and began developing a workable engine towards the end of the decade. In Germany Hans von Ohain patented his version of a jet engine in 1936 and began developing a similar engine. The two men were unaware of each others work, and both Germany and Britain had developed jet aircraft by the end of World War II.

If the Americans were the pioneers of flight in 1903, and the Germans and British the main innovators of the technological development of military aircraft during 1915-18, the French, can fairly be attributed with the genesis of military aviation and its associated construction industry in 1910.

In January/February 1910, the first French military aviation graduates received their flying certificates and publicly displayed their skills in demonstrations at the ‘Circuit d’Est’ in Paris, and in the many other flying competitions that followed.

In September the same year, aircraft field trials took place in the soon to be war-torn Département de Picardie, and conclusions were drawn that military aircraft would be a useful addition to the tools of warfare. In October the post of Permanent Inspector of Military Aeronautics was authorised and the parent unit of the French Army Air Services - L’Aéronautique Militaire - was created.

At the 1911 annual French military Grand Manoeuvres, selected aircraft were evaluated for performance and ability to co-operate with the artillery. Thereafter, a whole infrastructure for this new military arm was created by official and voluntary efforts.

By June 1912, there were 250 certified military aviators and five Escadrilles (equivalent to, but smaller than, a British squadron) of aircraft, with five aircraft each, that were operational with field Armies on the French Mainland. Each Escadrille had its own adminstrative and materiél organisations under the aegis of L’Aéronautique Militaire. A sixth colonial Escadrille was located in Algeria.

By the turn of the year in 1914, a whole series of Central Establishments had been created for Airfield Construction and Maintenance, Aircraft Manufacture, Aeronautical and Aviation Research and Aviation Practice.

By 1914, L’Aeronautique Militaire had around 200 aircraft from various manufactures organised into Escadrilles of six aircraft. Meanwhile, the equivalent naval air-service had only eight aircraft and 200 men, though this service too was to expand exponentially as the war went on.

Nearly all the military and naval aircraft were of indigenous manufacture. As required, additional materiél was bought elsewhere; particularly aircraft engines, with the multinational Hispano-Suiza Company (Spanish, French, British and American) a prime source.

In all, 22 French Marques were to be involved in the Great War, of which 11 played a significant role.

Parker Information Resources
Houston, Texas
E-mail: bparker@parkerinfo.com

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