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

  • Ivan Alvarado / Reuters

    Photos of the Week: Prehistoric Tongue, First Snow, Panda Scan

    Autumn colors in Belgium; chess-boxing in Paris; dinosaurs in India; bushfires in Australia; impeachment hearings in Washington, D.C.; Santa Claus in Germany; tennis in London, and much more

  • NASA

    The Flight of Apollo 12: Photos From 50 Years Ago

    A look back at the second mission to land humans on the moon, which blasted off on November 14, 1969.

  • Stefano Mazzola / Awakening / Getty

    Venice Underwater: The Highest Tide in 50 Years

    A record-setting acqua alta has left much of Venice submerged, following stormy conditions blowing in from the Adriatic Sea.

  • Muhammad Anuar bin Jamal / Shutterstock

    The Magic of Fall Colors

    Bundle up, maybe grab a mug of hot cider, and enjoy this batch of recent fall photos.