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The Great War

Barely a decade had passed since the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight at Kittyhawk , North Carolina when war broke out in Europe following the July 1914 assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo . Despite the skepticism of conventional military thinking, flimsy wood frame canvas-covered aircraft were first used in an observation role over the front lines in Europe . Given the novelty of the aeroplane and notions of chivalry, flyers of opposing sides initially waved to one another. That practice came to a halt when some enterprising aviator thought to bring a pistol aloft and began taking potshots at enemy pilots. But the airborne gunfire died down when experience showed how hard it was to hit a small moving aircraft while firing with a pistol from another.

The machine gun was eventually married to the aeroplane, but in the interim sling shots, steel darts called flechettes, ramming, and even bricks were employed in efforts to bring down enemy aircraft. Then in April 1915 French flier Roland Garros, firing a Hotchkiss .303 caliber machine gun through the propeller of his Morane-Saulnier 2 single-seater, was the first documented aviator to bring down an enemy plane in this fashion. The certain destruction of the aeroplanes’ wooden propellers had prevented the use of machine guns in anything but defensive roles, until Garros hit upon the idea of fixing steel plates to the sections of the propeller likely to be hit, to deflect the bullets. Firing through the propeller in this way was still dangerous to the pilot, who could be hit by one of his own richochet shots, but it was also deadly to enemy aircraft. Garros’ first victory on April 1, 1915 was over a German Aviatik, and he made four more kills within 17 days.

The German High Command initially discounted reports of their aeroplanes being brought down by machine gun fire from enemy planes, until the engine of Garros’ fighter died and forced him down behind German lines. Both Garros and his aeroplane were captured intact. Anthony Fokker, a Dutchman but the premier aircraft designer for the fledgling German Air Force, was sent for to examine Garros’ machine and build a copy of the magical weapon that could fire through propellers. Fokker saw what Garros had done and decided it was a type of Russian Roulette for pilots. He instead designed an interruptor gear that synchronized the firing of the machine gun with the rotation of the propeller, literally firing in the interval between the passing propeller blades. German fighters became extremely deadly overnight, and Allied fighters soon followed the development.

World War I saw the aeroplane take its place alongside the submarine, the machine gun, and the tank as weapons that foretold the new destructiveness of warfare in the 20th Century. While the many civil benefits of the aeroplane would become obvious in later years, the period 1914 to 1918 saw dogfights, strafing of troops and other ground targets, aerial bombing by both aircraft and zeppelins, and new dangers to civilians far from the front lines — all ushered in by the arrival of “the flying machine.”

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Aircraft

Halberstadt CI.II

Blue Max’s Halberstadt CI.II features injection molded and white metal parts, but caution: It is for modelers of at least intermediate skill, who have scratch building experience. I had to fashion key parts such as the interplane struts out of sheet plastic. A dedicated ground attack aircraft armed with machine guns and anti-personnel bombs, the Halberstadt CI.II was designed with infantry support in mind.

Junkers D.1

The Junkers D.1 was a German single-seat fighter that appeared in relatively small numbers in 1918 toward the end of The Great War. It was the world’s first all-metal, cantilver design, single-seat monoplane fighter. While monoplane fighters had first appeared during World War I as early as 1915, notably the French Morane Saulnier N and Germany’s Fokker Eindekker, Junkers was the first to produce one that featured an all-metal airframe and that did not require external struts or wire bracing to support either the wing or tail…

Junkers J.1

The Junkers J.1 was the first bomber of all-metal construction and was designed around an armoured fuselage intended to withstand heavy small arms fire. Eduard’s kit features a highly detailed cockpit, complete engine, and realistically detailed corrugated surfaces.

Pfalz D.IIIa

The Pfalz D.IIIa was a rugged but underpowered fighter of WWI. Though difficult to handle, it nonetheless beefed up German late-war fighter strength from November 1917 on. Eduard’s kit features a highly detailed cockpit and complete engine, and is enhanced with separately sold photo-etch detail parts.

R.E. 8

The Airfix kit is very basic and offers modelers simple construction. The Reconnaisance Experimental 8, nicknamed “Harry Tate,” was a widely used observation platform for the British Royal Flying Corps in WWI, and despite heavy losses remained in service throughout the war.

S.E.5a

Revell-Germany’s British S.E.5a is a re-box of the 1956 Aurora kit, and is easy to assemble but cries out for some detailing. A roughly accurate build that is fun and relatively trouble-free.

Spad S.A. 2

Amodel’s Spad S.A. 2 is crude, requiring scratch building skill and possibly some parts replacement to complete. The S.A.2 was a gondola fighter with an unstable center of gravity that may have killed more French pilots than German. Not widely used, it was never popular and considered highly dangerous.

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