When Europe went to war in 1914, most Americans had never seen an airplane, and the young men who climbed into the rudimentary flying machines to train for combat were for the most part unimpressed by the airplane’s capabilities. “[They could] run over the ground like frightened jack rabbits, but they could not fly,” said advanced training student Stuart Elliott of the French Morane-Saulnier he contended with at the Third Aviation Instruction Center in Issoudun, France. At the center, built by Americans and initially staffed by French instructors, all U.S. Army Air Service fighter pilots—or pursuit pilots, as they were called then—learned a new discipline: air warfare. ​

In August 1914, the Air Service had 28 officers. When the war ended about four years later, the officer corps had grown to 20,568, and names like Eddie Rickenbacker and Victor Chapman of the Lafayette Escadrille had become legends.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, we offer this collection of stories about the beginning of aerial combat in the skies over Europe.


World War I in Pictures

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America’s First Combat Pilots

Edward Mannock

The Dark Side of Glory

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For France and Civilization

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Letters From a WWI Jenny Pilot

APRIL 4, 1918

Lost Photographs of the Great War

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Diary of a World War I Ace

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First Responders

Harry Townsend sketched crews pushing aircraft into position after an alert.

Art From the WWI Trenches


The Few, the Brave, the Lucky

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Airplane vs. Zeppelin in 1917

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Luck and Death: WWI Pilots and their Superstitions