JF Ptak Science Books Post 2588
The news of the Wright Brothers and their historic powered flight in December 1903 was a monumental deal, though the report of the success was buried in middle of the Scientific American issue that first covered it. Eleven years later heavier-than-air powered aircraft went from being from non-existent but with potential/possibility to machines used in war. It took eight years from the Wright plane for an aircraft to be used in combat dropping bombs on people, a role that would of course be exploded beyond all recognition just a few years later. During the first few months of WWI aircraft were used but mostly for surveillance and mapping--aerial combat existed, sort of, though without any firepower. The first air victories were results of aircraft ramming one another (the first seems to have been August 25, 1914), while the first instance of one plane shooting down another didn't occur until the war was in its second month, a French plane shooting down a German aircraft with a machine gun and a rifle.1
These notes are simple background for the image that I found in The Illustrated London News (September 19, 1914) showing aerial combat between a British Bristol and a German Taube. What is striking of course is that the Royal Flying Corps aircraft was attacking with the co-pilot firing a pistol at the German plane--a little unexpected. The description of the image identifies the pilot of the German aircraft ("Sergeant Werner, the first German to fly over Paris and drop bombs") and that he had been on a reconnaissance flight mapping allied positions--how that information was known I do not know. In any event the British aircraft pursued the German and nearly had it within rights--that is until German soldiers on the ground returned fire on the British aircraft, forcing it to retire.
Luckily I own the war years for the ILN and I do believe that this was the first image in that journal showing air-to-air combat. The ILN does have earlier images showing the first bombing raids from aircraft and also of air-to-ground machine gun attacks, but at this point this may be the first of its kind. It all seems very removed--quaint,even--given how quickly things developed over the next year.
- "On October 5, 1914, Sergeant Joseph Frantz and Corporal Louis Quénault of Escadrille VB24 scored the first air-to-air kill (not involving ramming - see Pyotr Nesterov) of the war, shooting down a German Aviatik B.II with machine gun fire. Quénault fired two 48-round magazines at the Germans. The Germans returned fire with rifles. When the Frenchman's 8 mm Hotchkiss M1909 machine gun jammed, he successfully returned fire with his rifle. Oberleutnant Fritz von Zangen and Sergeant Wilhelm Schlichting of FFA 18 fell to their deaths. This is believed to be the first air-to-air kill in any war."--a good Wikipedia contribution on the Voisin III, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voisin_III