As you get geared up for a trip to a galaxy far, far away, here’s a brief look at the real history that helped inspire the aerial battles we love in Star Wars
Before there were X-Wings, TIE fighters or Imperial Star Destroyers filling screens around the world, there were Sopwith Camels, Fokker Eindeckers and Zeppelins patrolling the skies over Europe in World War I, the birth of combat aviation.
The first use of aviation was reconnaissance over enemy positions. To interrupt these intelligence-gathering missions, pilots would take to the skies armed with revolvers, grenades, bricks or even ropes to attempt hooking the other pilot’s propellers!
This airborne fistfight took a turn when the Germans perfected the mounting of a machine gun to the front of the aircraft, synchronizing each shot with the rotation of the propeller so pilots could mechanically avoid shooting themselves down. The “Fokker Scourge” lasted until 1916 when the French Nieuport 11 and the Sopwith Aviation Company of Great Britain arrived to level the playing field.
Despite earning their celebrity 100 years ago, the “flying aces” of World War I enjoy uncommon legendary status that transcends national boundaries. Names like Eddie Rickenbacker, Billy Bishop, Albert Ball, and Manfred von Richthofen – better known as the “Red Baron” – occupy a unique place in military history and popular culture.
To see more incredible images of combat aviation’s beginnings, check out this The Atlantic’s World War I in Photos: Aerial Warfare gallery.
Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is an upcoming computer-animated feature film based on the incredible true story of America’s most decorated dog. After being rescued off the streets by a young Soldier on the eve of World War I, Stubby is given a home, a family, and the chance to embark on the adventure that would define a century. For his valor and courage, Stubby is recognized as the first dog promoted to the rank of Sergeant in U.S. Army history.