In August 1914 the airplane was seen as an interesting toy by the High commands of all the powers. The British Royal Flying Corps took five squadrons to France, consisting of some 60 planes of different varieties. The pilots being generally rich sportsmen, who had learned to fly in their own aircraft before the war.
The planes were fragile, slow and very expensive an airplane cost over £1,000, at a time when the average weekly wage was £2 for a labourer – so close to 10 years’ pay!
It was only in 1909 that Bleriot had flown the channel and it was widely believed that no stunts could be performed or the plane would break up in the air, it was also thought that any pilot who flew other than straight and level was taking his life in his hands. In 1913 the Frenchman Pégoud demonstrated some primitive aerobatics to an admiring audience.
At the beginning of hostilities in WW1 the British had around 110 aircraft in service, the French a few tens more, and the Germans approaching 250. By the end of the war each side would be deploying thousands of aircraft each.
This episode was written by Richard G Pugh
Richard is a solicitor who has worked in Television Production for many years and now lectures lawyers and students in Media Law for BPP Plc, together with providing articles on history and law for various publications.