12 Important Aircraft From World War One

The First World War oversaw the development of combat aircraft, which by 1918 were differentiated into fighters, bombers and long-range bombers. The RAF had also been created by 1918 with an independent command structure.

Originally used purely for reconnaissance, fighters and bombers were soon developed. Flying ‘aces’, fighter pilots with an impressive kill record such as Manfred von Richthofen (or the ‘Red Baron’), became national heroes. Bombers remained fairly crude — a crew member would drop the ordinance out of the plane, but substantial improvements were made in the manoeuvrability and reliability of the aircraft themselves.

Below are 12 important aircraft from the First World War, including bombers, fighters and reconnaissance planes.

British BE 2C

BE52

Armament: 1 Lewis Machine Gun

About 3,500 were built. Initially used as front-line reconnaissance aircraft and light bombers; variants of the type were also used as night fighters.

It was fundamentally unsuited to air-to-air combat, but its stability was helpful in observation and reconnaissance activities. 

French Nieuport 17 C1

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Armament: 1 Lewis Machine Gun

The Nieuport was an exceptionally mobile bi-plane whose introduction to the war heralded the end of the ‘Fokker Scourge’ period of German dominance.

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It was taken up by the British and French aces, notably Canadian WA Bishop and Albert Ball, both VC winners, proving to be both reliable and effective. The Germans tried and failed to mimic the design exactly, although it provided the basis for some aircraft.

German Albatros D-1

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Armament: Twin Spandau machine-guns

A German fighter aircraft with a short operational history.

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Although widely distributed in November 1916, mechanical flaws saw that it was overtaken by the Albatros DII, Albatros’ first major production fighter.

British Bristol F2 B

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Armament: 1 forward facing Vickers and 1 rear Lewis machine guns.

A British two-seat biplane and reconnaissance aircraft, the Bristol fighter proved an agile and popular aircraft.

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Its first deployment, in the Battle of Arras 1917, was a tactical disaster, with four of six planes being shot down. More flexible, aggressive tactics saw the Bristol evolve into a formidable opponent for any German single-seater.

French Spad s-7 C.1

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Armament: 1 Vickers machine gun

A fighter biplane renowned for its sturdiness, the SPAD was flown by aces such as George Guynemer and Italy’s Francesco Baracca.

By late 1916 new, powerful German fighters threatened to secure supremacy in the air, but the SPAD completely changed the face of aerial warfare, with its capacity to dive safely at 249mph being a particular advantage.

German Fokker Dr-1 Triplane

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Armament: Twin Spandau machine-guns

Flown by the Red Baron for his last 19 kills, the Fokker Dr.1 offered exceptional manoeuvrability, but became increasingly redundant as the Allies produced faster planes.

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It is best known in popular culture as the aircraft in which the Red Baron died.

German Gotha G-V

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Armament Parabellum machine-guns, 14 HE bombs

A heavy bomber, used principally at night, the GV proved a robust and effective aircraft.

It entered service in August 1917 and inevitably served well in replacing ponderous and expensive Zeppelins and limited light bombers. It soon formed the backbone of German bombing campaigns.

 British Sopwith F1 ‘Camel’

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Armaments: Vickers machine guns

A single-seater bi-plane introduced on the Western Front in 1917. Though difficult to handle, for an experienced pilot it provided unmatched manoeuvrability. It was credited with shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft, more than any other Allied fighter in the war.

It helped establish Allied air superiority that last well in 1918, and in the hands of Major William Barker it became the most successful fighter aircraft in the history of the RAF, shooting down 46 aircraft and balloons.

British S.E.5a

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Armaments: Vickers machine gun

Early mechanical problems meant that there was a chronic shortage of SE5s until way into 1918.

Together with the Camel, the SE5 was instrumental to regaining and maintaining Allied air supremacy.

German Fokker D-VII

D7f

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Armaments: Spandau machine guns

A formidable aircraft, the Fokker DVII appeared on the Western Front in 1918. It was highly manoeuvrable and able to expose the frailties of the Camel and SPAN.

It could literally ‘hang on its prop’ without stalling for brief periods of time, spraying enemy aircraft from below with machine gun fire. A condition of the German surrender was that the Allies seize all Fokker DVIIs. 

 British Sopwith 7F I ‘Snipe’

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Armament: 2 Vickers machine guns

A single-seater bi-plane that lacked the speed of contemporary aircraft but could outclass them in terms of manoeuvrability.

It was flown by Major William G Barker who, when ambushed by 15 Fokker D.VIIs in October 1918, managed to shoot down at least 3 enemy aircraft before making a forced landing on Allied front lines, an action for which he was rewarded with the Victoria Cross.

British De Havilland 4

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Armaments: 1 Vickers machine gun. 2 Lewis guns

Otherwise known as the Airco 4, the DH.4 entered service in January 1917. It proved a huge success, and is often considered the best single-engine bomber of the war.

It was very reliable and proved highly popular with crews, given its speed and altitude performance, which gave it a good deal of invulnerability to German fighter interception.

Alex Browne studied History at Kings College London and is an Assistant Editor at Made From History. He specializes in post-war history in the USA and Central America.