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Fighter Planes

The Film

 

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Year
1918

Running Time
08 min 43 s

Producer
Canadian War Records Office, Ministry of Information

This footage can be divided into four distinct sections. The first segment depicts members of the Royal Naval Air Service as they receive instruction in the use of aerial machine guns and bombs; go about their work in a repair shop; and undergo an inspection outside a hangar. The second section features a group of aviators posing before BE2 trainer aircraft. After a pair of aviators pose in the cockpit, we see a rear view of the BE2 as it taxis away. The third section is a montage of various aircraft — a Farman Maching, a Sopwith 1&1/2 Strutter and others – as they take off and land. The final segment begins with images of a pilot and camera operator boarding an observation plane which proceeds to take off. This is followed by a series of aerial shots, including images of other aircraft performing stunts.

The First World War is often described as “the first air war.” While aircraft had been used in previous conflicts — mostly recently in the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 - it was during the great conflict of 1914-1918 that aircraft would forever alter the nature of warfare. In turn, the war would spur unprecedented advances in aircraft technology.

Canada did not have any air force units of its own, and was only beginning to develop its own embryonic air force in the closing days of the war. However, thousands of Canadians served with the British flying services, with estimates ranging from 13,160 to 22,812. By 1918 about one quarter of the men in the Royal Air Force were Canadian, some of whom underwent training at home in Canada. Among the most accomplished Canadian “aces” were Raymond Collishaw, William Barker, and Redford Mulock, a decorated Colonel who was in line to command an air raid on Berlin if the war had lasted a few weeks longer.

All the images in this clip would have been shot during training sessions, as little actual battle footage exists. BE.2a and BE.2b aircraft were used only briefly in battle (1914-1915) before being replaced by the BE.2c and BE.2d which served until 1917. As each version became obsolete in the field it was "recycled" in training roles. This was a common pattern, as improved versions of existing machines or altogether new aircraft were rapidly introduced. In the case of the Sopwith 1&1/2 Strutter — the first British strategic bomber — its lifespan in the field was less than a year, from late 1916 until early 1917. By this time, engineers had designed the first purpose-built training aircraft, the Curtiss JN-4, which went on to enjoy a post-war career as a “barnstormer” in civilian flying exhibitions.

The cameraman seen towards the end of the clip would not have been engaged in military reconnaissance. He was more likely a cinematographer whose intent was to capture aerial footage like that featured in this type of film.


Pieces of History

The First Air War

Some General Comments on Great War-era Films


Images

Class On Construction Using Curtiss JN-4 Fuselage, No. 4, School of Aeronautics, University of Toronto, 1917 1 ½  Sopwith Strutter Nieuport 17 S.E.5a Avro 504 Bristol F2B Fighter Looping (Air Technical Service Poster)

Teaching Materials

Aviation