World War I in Photos: Aerial Warfare

Over the course of the war, the role of the military aviator progressed from one of mere observation to a deadly offensive role. Early on, pilots would would fly off armed only with pistols (or completely unarmed)—by 1918, fighter planes and massive bombers were in use, armed with multiple machine guns and devastating explosive payloads. Older technologies, like tethered balloons and kites were used on the front lines to gain an upper hand. As aircraft became more of a threat, anti-aircraft weapons and tactics were developed, and pilots had to devise new ways to avoid being shot down from the land and the sky. Aerial photography developed into an indispensable tool to guide artillery attacks and assess damage afterward. The pilots of these new aircraft took tremendous risks—vulnerable to enemy fire, at the mercy of the weather, flying new, often experimental aircraft. Crashes were frequent, and many paid with their lives. I've gathered photographs of the Great War from dozens of collections, some digitized for the first time, to try to tell the story of the conflict, those caught up in it, and how much it affected the world. This entry is part 5 of a 10-part series on World War I.

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Mark Wallheiser / AP

    Photos: Teenagers Demand 'Never Again' in an Age of Mass Shootings

    A week after 17 people were murdered in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, teenagers across South Florida, in areas near Washington, D.C., and in other parts of the United States walked out of their classrooms to stage protests against the horror of school shootings and to advocate for gun law reforms.

  • Stéphane Mahé / Reuters

    A Quiet, Ancestral Farm Life in Western France

    Reuters photographer Stéphane Mahé visited a farmer named Jean-Bernard Huon on his farm in western France, where he deliberately lives a traditional, non-mechanized farm life.

  • Guadalupe Pardo / Reuters

    Photos of the Week: Skiing Robots, a Bichon Frise Wins Best in Show

    The U.S. Toboggan Championships in Maine, scenes from New York Fashion Week, a camel trip on a Siberian steppe, and much more.

  • Adam Ferguson / The New York Times

    Nominees in the 2018 World Press Photo Contest

    The top images being considered to win awards in the 61st annual World Press Photo Contest ​have just been announced.