Evolution of Air Power during World War I

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Evolution of Air Power during World War I

The first practical airplane was invented and flown by the Wright brothers in 1903. Shortly thereafter, in 1914, World War I broke out and many nations saw this fledgling aviation technology as a potential advantage in the war. At first, airplanes were used for reconnaissance, similar to how other aircraft, namely balloons, had been used as far back as 1794 by the French, and by both sides during the American Civil War. However, later in the war, aircraft were also used in combat, and to drop bombs on enemies. Over the course of the war, aviation developed significantly into a major force that was essential to a nation’s military arsenal.

Captain Stephen H. Noyes was an aviator in the United States military during World War I. He worked on numerous reconnaissance missions in France.  The purpose of these missions was to gain information about important places, highways railroads and rivers, as well as the location of enemy troops. This lesson will examine his letters, handbooks, and reconnaissance photos from this time, and students will analyze the importance and growth of technologies through WWI.


Essential Questions

How can the story of another American, past or present, influence your life?
How does continuity and change within the United States history influence your community today?
What role do multiple causations play in describing a historic event?


Students will be able to:

1.  Interpret and analyze letters, photos, reports and handbooks of Stephen H. Noyes and determine their significance in the buildup of airpower during World War I.


Other Materials

An abbreviated look at Noyes’s photos (ppt)

This resource includes paired reconnaissance maps and photographs.


Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. Choose one of the following to go over with the class to build background knowledge of aircraft in World War I
    1. Have students read background information on aviation in World War I,
      1. As a class, connect this information to the war as a whole.
    2. Have students watch this video about aviation in World War I
      1. As a class, connect this information to the war as a whole.  (For the sake of time, you could just watch the beginning of the video, as the latter half goes into fighter and bomber planes)
  2. Have students look at the  images taken by Captain Steven Noyes  and have students answer the following:
    1. How would detailed maps such as these help pilots?
    2. What information could someone get from these reconnaissance pictures?
    3. What advantages would this information bring?
    4. What records are included in this scrapbook?
    5. What are some possible dangers Noyes faced when on these reconnaissance missions?
  3. As a class, discuss the students’ answers then ask the following:
    1. What innovations developed in response to reconnaissance planes?
    2. How did the use of aircraft change over the course of the war?
    3. How did the use of airplanes revolutionize the war? Do you think they played a role in the reason WWI is considered the “first modern war?” What else made WWI the first modern war?


Reconnaissance: military observation of a region to locate an enemy or ascertain strategic features


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