History of air warfare

Who invented the Air Warfare? The technological evolution of air warfare revealed a new way for major military powers to battles worldwide.

The development of air warfare transformed the way major military powers fought battles because air warfare is almost entirely a creation of the 20th century, where it has evolved into the primary branch of many military operations. Air warfare involves military operations conducted by warplanes and combat helicopters against civilian and military targets in the air, on the ground, on the sea, and beneath the water.

Balloon Observations

Although the idea for using aerial ships as weapon systems existed prior to the 20th century, air warfare was primarily employed for reconnaissance operations. In 1670, the idea of warfare conducted from an aerial ship was proposed by the Italian Jesuit Francesco de Lana Terzi In 1794, a balloon was first used for military purposes during the French revolution, when French army observers stationed in a balloon directed ground fire against Austrian forces.

A few contemporary engravings illustrate another military application: a fanciful proposal to employ balloons as troop transports to invade England. In 1862 and 1863, during the American Civil War, the Army of the Potomac used balloons to observe Confederate movements. A balloon sent to Cuba during the Spanish-American War was used to direct U.S. artillery fire at the Battle of San Juan.

First World War Combat Aircraft

Air warfare did not become significant until the First World War. The British, French, German, Russian, and Italian armed forces had flying units, including biplanes armed with machine guns for “dogfights” with enemy fighter aircraft. Zeppelins and larger airplanes carried out bombing raids.

During the dog fighting days of the First World War, light machine guns were synchronized to fire through the airplane’s propeller, and by the end of the war, fighters, such as the German Fokker D.VII, were attaining speeds of 215 kilometers per hour. Most of these were biplanes made of wooden frames and cloth skins, as were many of the standard interwar fighters.

By 1918, the reconnaissance aircraft of 1914 had developed into faster and stronger flying machines, equipped with machine guns and capable of dramatic air warfare maneuvers while dog-fighting the enemy. Bomber aircraft became larger and with bigger bomb loading sections and sufficient range to strike strategic targets.

During the 1920s and ’30s, aircraft designers and engineers developed the monoplane with its all-metal fuselage and the aircraft carrier. The capabilities of these new combat aircraft against ground targets were demonstrated in the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ campaigns of 1930s and 40s.

Second World War Combat Aircraft

During the Second World War, the Battle of Britain was the first fought exclusively in the air, the Battle of the Coral Sea was the first between carrier-based aircraft, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first use of nuclear-armed bombers. The Second World War demonstrated that command of air was vital for any offensive employment of air assets for strategic bombing and ground support, and was also significant in protecting assets against enemy bomber’s, while safeguarding surface forces against enemy air attacks. The best combat aircraft during the Second World War were the Me109, the P-51, and the Me 262.

The Me 109 was originally designed in 1934 by Willy Messerschmitt at the Bavarian Airplane Co. (BFW). Modified after seeing action in the Spanish Civil War, it became Germany’s premier fighter for much of the Second World War. The model used in the Battle of Britain was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane with a top speed of 570 kilometers per hour and a ceiling of 10,500 meters. It was faster in a dive than the British Spitfire but was limited in range by a small fuel capacity. By 1944 improved Allied fighters such as the P-51 had outstripped it.

The U.S. designed P-51 Mustang was a single seat, single-engine monoplane produced for Britain’s Royal Air Force, it went into service in 1941 and later was adopted by the U.S. Army Air Force. The original P-51 had four .50-caliber and four .30-caliber machine guns and a camera for photoreconnaissance; its maximum speed was 630 kilometers per hour. The P-51D, a later model, had six .50-caliber machine guns and a maximum speed of 700 kilometers per hour. A superb long-range fighter, it played a significant part in defeating the German Luftwaffe.

The Messerschmitt Me 262, powered by two jet engines and with wings swept back 18.5°, was capable of 525 kilometers per hour. Armed with four 30-millimeter cannon and unguided rockets, it was an effective bomber destroyer, but it entered service too late to have a major effect on the war.

Jet Age Combat Aircraft

During the jet age, air power was used in strategic bombing operations on an enemy’s home territory, as in the Vietnam War and for destroying enemy air forces, as in the Arab-Israeli wars and for attacking and defending carrier-based naval fleets, as in the Falkland Islands War, 1982 and for supporting ground forces, as in the Persian Gulf War, 1990–91. Since the 1990s, the Cold War’s end has transformed the strategic considerations and emphasized the need for rapid deployment of forces where multi-role combat aircraft may be used to police trouble regions worldwide.

Stealth combat aircraft capability may pave the way for the future of air combat operations. Stealth aircraft are aircraft that use stealth technology to hide from radar detection by employing a combination of features to reduce visibility in the infrared, visual, audio, and radio frequency (RF) spectrum. Stealth technology began in Germany during the Second World War. Today, the best stealth aircraft include the United States’ F-117 Nighthawk, the B-2 Spirit “Stealth Bomber”, the F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Lightning II, and the Russian Su-271B Flanker.

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