Aircraft of the Lafayette Escadrille

Aircraft flown by the members of the Lafayette Escadrille included the Nieuport 11 "bébé," the SPAD VII, and the Nieuport 17. Descriptions of each model are are at the right.


Nieuport 11 (nickname bébé) flown by Clyde Balsley.
With his personal marking of a white star, it was camouflaged with standard brown and green upper surface and natural under surface. It was equipped with a 80 hp 9 cylinder LeRhone rotary and was capable of 97 mph. Armament was one fixed forward firing Lewis machine gun mounted in the top wing to fire over the propeller. (Artwork by Alan Durkota)
SPAD VII early model flown by Walter Lovell.
It was finished in overall pale yellow and carried the later type unit emblem of the Sioux warrior. Also applied was Lovell’s personal marking of a green stripe on the fuselage. It was powered by a 140 hp Hispano-Suiza V-8 water cooled engine giving it a top speed of 119 mph. It carried one forward firing deck mounted Vickers machine gun synchronized to fire between the propeller blades. (Artwork by Alan Durkota)
Nieuport 17 flown by Willis Haviland.
It had the standard overall aluminum finish and displayed the first type unit emblem - the Seminole warrior. The engine was the 110 hp 9 cylinder LeRhone rotary and produced a top speed of 107 mph. It carried one deck mounted forward firing Vickers machine gun synchronized to fire between propeller blades, and/or one upper wing Lewis machine gun. (Artwork by Alan Durkota)
SPAD VII late model flown by Robert Soubiran.
It was finished in standard five color French camouflage and carried the Sioux warrior emblem as well as Soubiran’s personal marking of his initials inside a diamond painted on the fuselage. These SPAD’s were equipped with an upgraded Hispano-Suiza engine of either 175 hp or 205 hp producing a top speed of 132 mph. It carried one forward firing deck mounted machine gun synchronized to fire between the propeller blades. (Artwork by Ray Rimell)


Evolution of Military Aircraft 1914-1918

Less than 11 years had passed between the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk and the first shots being fired in World War I.

France and Germany established military air forces in 1909, and England followed three years later. Military leaders saw reconnaissance as the air corps’ primary responsibility, and in the first two years of the War, observation was its sole duty.

French air observers are credited with making a critical contribution toward the defeat of the German Army in the Battle of the Marne in September 1914.

As air reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance increased, pilots and observers began to shoot at each other with side arms and sometimes even threw hand grenades in efforts to down the enemy.

It was these efforts to thwart the enemy's observation flights that led to the development of the pursuit plane. Early pursuit planes were often pusher propeller craft with the engine behind the pilot. This allowed the gunner to aim and shoot forward without shooting off his propeller.

In 1915, a French Ace, Roland Garros put metal plating on the edge of his propeller permitting him to shoot forward while the propeller was spinning. Although it was a makeshift improvement, it gave him an advantage over his foes.

In October 1915, the Germans introduced Anthony Fokker’s Eindecker, a single wing pursuit plane fitted with an “interrupter gear” which timed the guns firing so that the blade was not in the line of fire. This innovation gave the Germans a heavy advantage and led to the “Fokker Scourge” of late 1915 and early 1916.

The French countered with the introduction of the Nieuport 17 and Spad VII.

In July 1916, The Germans introduced a new fighter strategy, the “Jagdstaffeln”, usually 14 plane fighter units. With this development, the air war shifted from single combat to mass air battles.

In 1917, the Allies took technical and numerical advantage with the introduction of the Sopwith Camel and Spad XIII.

In the final year of the War, the Germans introduced a new tactic, “schlastas”, using fighter aircraft in the support of ground troops. This worked well at the outset, but allied air superiority overwhelmed the German’s final push.

The “schlastas” strategy would reappear in the joint Luftwaffe - Panzer operations of World War II.

Through the first years of the War, the Germans staged 53 Zeppelin bombing raids on England. These were of the little military value and presented the Germans as killers of civilians.

Bombing by airplane entered the War with the German’s Gotha G.IV heavy bomber and eight raids were made on England in the summer of 1917. These bombings had little if any significant military impact.

Aviation played a rather limited role in World War I, but it did foreshadow what would follow 25 years later.

Airco D.H.2 - England
Designed by the famous Geoffrey de Havilland and built by the aircraft manufacturing company (Airco), the D.H.2 was a single seat observation - fighter plane. It was built of wood and fabric and had a pusher engine which allowed the pilot to shoot forward without hitting his propeller. The D.H.2 was a primary British fighter until 1916.
Sopwith Camel F.1
Called the Camel because of its hump behind the cowling which housed two Vickers machine guns, the Sopwith F.1 was probably the most famous of all British warplanes. Between mid-June 1917 and the end of the War in November 1918 it was credited with more than 3,000 victories.
Fokker E.III Eindecker
This monoplane was designed by Anthony Fokker, a Dutchman, who presented the design to the British in 1912. They rejected it and he sold it to Germany. In April 1915, one was fitted with and interrupter gear (synchronizer) which enabled a machine gun to fire through the spinning propeller. Thus fitted, the Eindecker led the “Fokker Scourge” of 1915. Three hundred E.III’s were produced.
Fokker D.VII
Although not as famous as the Fokker DR.1 triplane, the D.VIII was considered the finest German fighter plane of the War and a worthy opponent to the Spad S.XII and the Nieuport 17. Powered by either a Mercedes or a BMW engine, the D.VII had an exceptional rate of climb making it a dangerous foe and although it saw action in only the final six months of the War, in August alone it was credited with 565 victories. The D.VII was so highly feared that its production was banned as part of the surrender terms.
Gotha G.IV
Powered by two Mercedes D.IV in-line engines, the massive G.IV had a wingspan of nearly 80 feet and weighed over six thousand pounds empty. A Fokker triplane weighed just under 650 pounds with bombs for the raids on England although it could carry up to 1,100 pounds. The plane had a crew of three, a pilot and forward and rear gunners.

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