Frank Barnard on the evolution of fighter planes during WWI & II

May 7, 2014, Article by Ben Willis in Books

by Frank Barnard:

Only eleven years separate Man’s first powered flight in 1903 and the outbreak of World War One. The next four years saw fighter planes develop from spies in the air tracking enemy positions to fighting machines engaged in combat over the Western Front.


Faster, more deadly machines were designed between the wars, ostensibly for record-breaking but always with warlike intent. In 1940 came the greatest dog fight of them all, the Battle of Britain, the RAF taking on German air fleets intent on bombing this country into submission. By the war’s end in 1945 cities had been obliterated, with conventional and atomic bombs, and jet aircraft were reaching speeds of 400 mph, unimaginable to Wilbur and Orville Wright, taking off from their Dayton, Ohio airfield little more than forty years earlier.


This, then, is the period in which A Time For Heroes is set, when the world, and with it so many lives, were changed for ever:


1914 – Bleriot monoplane –  in which, in 1909, its designer Louis Bleriot was first to cross the Channel in. At outbreak of war used by Royal Flying Corps for training and reconnaissance



1915 – The FB5 Gunbus – the RFC’s first purpose-built fighter, air gunner standing in forward nacelle, pilot’s cockpit behind him under wings



1915 – Fokker Eindecker – Germany’s secret weapon, and first to fire synchronised machine guns through propeller blades enabling pilot to aim his machine directly at his target



1916 – Royal Flying Corp’s Bristol Scout – nimble, deadly, a design that helped to even the score



1931 – The Supermarine Racing Seaplane – designed by R.J.Mitchell, winner of the Schneider Trophy at 340 mph, forerunner of Mitchell’s Spitfire



1940 – Supermarine Spitfire – this, along with the Hawker Hurricane, defeated the Luftwaffe and foiled a German invasion’



A Time For Heroes by Frank Barnard is out now in paperback, priced £7.99