Thursday, May 22, 2008

Memorial Day, plus 3

The Airplane
The airplane was just coming into its own in the year 1914. By 1918, the warplane would be born into the pages of history. At the start of The Great War, planes were little more than observation and recon tools. That worked great for what it was. The officers on the ground loved the intelligence they got from the flying eyes in the sky. With artillery tearing people apart and causing destruction of entire towns, ground commanders wanted to avoid that reign of terror. But from the jump, pilots were trying to figure out how to shoot down enemy blimps and planes. They would carry small arms with them and take pot shots with pistols. It was like the wild wild west but in the skies over Europe. Once the concept of the fighter interceptor came to be in the minds of all sides engaged in combat, air supremacy would be critical to all future ground battles for the next century.

By the time First Lt. Oliver T. Beauchamp made it to the front lines of The Great War, the airplane had evolved to the point of the Nieuport 17, the plane pictured here. Made of wood and canvas, its a far cry from the F-22's of today. Air combat was in its infancy and the fighter pilot was about to become the newest hero for public consumption. What drove these brave men to the skies? I guess they all had their own ambitions or motivations. There was a chivalry attached to air combat, a sense of knighthood. It was like pistols at 40 paces. That gentlemanly conduct in combat feeling. Then again some of these kids may have been nothing more that wild cowboys looking for barnstorming excitement and this was the best fix out there. Fly by the seat of your pants, life and death type of stuff. The beginnings of the g junkie. Was this the kind of man Beauchamp was? I don't know. I have yet to talk to the family about Oliver, but it will come up one day and maybe I can back fill in this story with that. But from where he came from, I have to think his actions to become a combat pilot were along the lines of how many soldiers that signed up after 911 felt. They wanted to do something about it. And that immediate satisfaction can be had by signing up for the service.

By 1918, the airplane was in full blown combat duty. The Red Baron was on his way to 80 kills, air bombing had become rather popular, recon, pictures, interceptor duty, you name it, the airplane was helping with that mission or was the only tool to carry our that mission. The pilot quickly became a player. He was a national hero, a lone warrior with a sense of honor, something to hold up to the public as a bright spot in an otherwise horrid war of which the likes none had seen before. It was important for a country to have its aces. Moral depended on it. Even today the names from wars past you remember are Yeager, Rickenbacker, and Duke. Or the daddy of them all, The Red Baron. So to all those pilots, you will have a special toast this coming Memorial Day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post(s)! Anxiously await +2 and 1.