• On February 5, 1918, Lt. Stephen Thompson recorded the first fight victory in US aviation historical past.
  • Thompson was in France with the US’s twelfth Aero Squadron, and he wasn’t initially scheduled to be flying on the day he made historical past.
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Lt. Stephen Thompson recorded the first fight victory in American aviation historical past 103 years in the past. It actually wasn’t probably the most standard method to get a win. Thompson was in a French plane, and he wasn’t even supposed to be within the air!

Lt. Thompson was in France assigned to the United States’ twelfth Aero Squadron. The Americans, presently, have been leaps and bounds behind Europe within the improvement and logistics of aerial warfare. The twelfth Aero Squadron did not even have their planes on the time, and so they wanted coaching earlier than taking off into the battle.

Thompson and his comrades have been watching a French bomber squadron and making an attempt to absorb every thing they may, presumably pretty wide-eyed on the new expertise whereas making an attempt keep composed in entrance of their extra seasoned French counterparts.

Like many plane of this period, the Bréguet bombers of this squadron have been two-seaters, for a pilot and an “observer.” The first and most essential function of plane in World War I used to be reconnaissance, so the observer’s main accountability was to take footage of enemy positions whereas a pilot with nerves of metal saved the plane regular and degree over hostile territory.

A twelfth Aero Squadron Salmson 2A2 at Julvecourt Airdrome, France, November 1918

US Army Air Service

On February fifth, 1918, one of many French observers fell sick, and Lt. Thompson was invited to change him. Thompson was up to the duty. While in German territory, his plane was intercepted by an “Albatross” fighter over Saarbrucken on the German border. Thompson defended his plane and shot down the German fighter, doubtless utilizing a 7.7 mm Vickers gun or Lewis gentle machine gun generally discovered on French plane, taking his place in American historical past.

It ought to be famous that whereas Thompson tallied the first aerial victory for the United States navy, Americans had been serving within the Service Aeronautique for the French since 1915.

The French squadron N. 124, made up completely of 38 American pilots, was dubbed Escandrille Americain and later modified to Escandrille Lafayette in December of 1916 due to diplomatic points with Germany earlier than US entrance to the warfare. This unit was the inspiration for the 2006 film “Flyboys,” starring James Franco.

It’s additionally essential to make it clear that whereas American aviators actually contributed to the warfare effort towards the Central Powers within the later levels of the warfare, this pales as compared to the sacrifices and large technological leaps ahead by the British and French.

The fast development of aerial tools and ways got here solely due to pilots that have been prepared to saddle up and check out prototype after prototype with minimal, if any, coaching. They have been really pioneers of the skies, and it got here at a worth. Unreliable platforms inclined to mechanical or structural failure, a scarcity of skilled instructors and hurried coaching to push pilots to the warfare effort all contributed to excessive casualties even with out the added aspect of fight.

Despite the event of a very new aspect of warfare on this interval, aviation’s function in World War I and its influence on historical past does not appear to be as heralded as in later conflicts. There might be loads of causes for this. The plane, most with a most pace barely over 100 mph, have been fragile, boxy, and simply plain ugly as compared to the sleeker P-51 Mustang or F4U Corsair present in later conflicts. And they actually aren’t as horny as fashionable fighter jets and stealth bombers.

Colorized images and video footage from World War II and past has a transparent benefit when it comes to sticking in our consciousness as nicely. Perhaps it is simply because the extra lasting reminiscences of “The Great War” are the horrors of chemical weapons, or the demoralizing attrition.

Breguet bomber biplane WWI

A Breguet 14 at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918

US Army Air Service

In their age, although, pilots have been rock stars. In a time of rampant nationalism, pilots have been recognized by title to civilians, floor troops, and even enemy pilots. Georges Guynemer of France, Billy Bishop of Canada, Edward Mannock of Great Britain and maybe greatest recognized of all, Manfred von Richtofen of Germany (aka “The Red Baron”), have been all revered (or feared) within the skies over Europe.

They have been the faces of their respective navy, flying over a largely nameless floor pressure caught in a quagmire under. This was a supply of pressure and jealousy within the ranks (sound acquainted?). Ironically, the reconnaissance work of the pilots and the photographic intelligence they have been ready to present inside hours, as an alternative of days, was an enormous contributor to the impasse on the bottom.

The lengthy line of fight aces dominating the skies beneath the American flag begins with Lt. Stephen Thompson, although. Because of the unusual circumstances surrounding Thompson’s unofficial mission, he did not truly obtain credit score for the first confirmed aerial victory till 1967, when the National Museum of the US Air Force cleared issues up and got him the popularity.

That would not be the final of Thompson’s notable service. Four months later, with the US now totally engaged within the warfare within the air, Thompson was the observer on a Salmson fighter plane. He shot down two enemy plane earlier than he and his pilot, Lt. John C. Miller, have been shot down.

Miller was ready to land the plane in Allied territory earlier than succumbing to a abdomen wound. Thompson was struck within the leg and, due to missing medical providers within the space, dug the bullet out along with his pocket knife. The uniform he was carrying, full with the French Croix de Guerre he was awarded, is displayed within the National Museum of the US Air Force, together with the bullet he extracted.