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Commentary

The War To End All Wars, Armistice Day 100 Years Later

Barbed wire a century old, on the battlefield at Verdun, France
Dan Patterson
Barbed wire a century old, on the battlefield at Verdun, France

World War I ended 100 years ago. It was called The Great War and the War to end all Wars, and the centuries long way of fighting on the ground changed to airplanes. 

Our aviation commentator Dan Patterson has these thoughts.

The 20th Century was the aviation century.  The Wright brothers started it off by successfully flying in 1903. Orville and Wilbur opened the door to aviation and the rest of the world flew through it. Brilliant aviators across the globe took the basic principles and began the process of expanding and adding to the foundations.

The technology of war pushed the airplane dramatically forward. Bigger and better motors made it possible to build bigger and better and faster airplanes. The Generals wanted the aviators to fly out and see what was over the horizon where they thought enemy was.

Crafty pilots devised tactics and strategies, which created squadrons of small pursuit planes and then larger aircraft which became bombers.  The pursuit planes escorted the bombers and the new military science of aerial combat was born.

Flying evolved quickly.  Distances became international, altitudes gained in tens of thousands of feet.  Plans were being made to cross the oceans by air. Payloads progressed from small hand carried bombs to explosives in hundreds and thousands of pounds.  Aircraft were being built of metal, replacing wood and fabric. 

In 1917, when the U.S. entered the war,  the U.S. Army established its Aviation Engineering Headquarters at McCook Field, across the Great Miami River from downtown Dayton.  The progress in aviation soon outgrew the airfield; the watchwords were This field is small, use it all, which was painted on the hangar roof.

Dayton's McCook Field in 1924
Credit Dan Patterson Archival Collection
Dayton's McCook Field in 1924

The establishment of the engineering command in Dayton set the tone for the future of this region and leadership in nearly all aspects of the growing industry of aviation.  In 1927, Wright Field was opened and became the largest military airfield in the world.

In the laboratories and testing buildings at Wright Field, the sciences of aviation were explored and the limits of both man and manmade machines were tested.  They pushed the new machines until they blew up! You can still see huge electric motors and dynamometers which were only operated at night, in an agreement with local utilities when the electrical demands by the residents were lowest.

They thought that another world war was inevitable and kept pushing the edges of the known and yet to be discovered.  Instrument flying, parachutes, extreme altitudes, airframes and engines were designed, tested and perfected at Wright Field. The First War’s advances were built on and multiplied.

Thus Sunday, the anniversary of The War to End All Wars, will be commemorated by noting the 100 years since the guns fell silent, “On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918.” Armistice Day has become Veterans Day as that war did not end all wars.

The grave of Victor Chapman, first American airman to be killed in World War One, Muese-Argonne American Cemetery.
Credit Dan Patterson
The grave of Victor Chapman, first American airman to be killed in World War One, Muese-Argonne American Cemetery.

Dan Patterson is an aviation historian and photographer. You can see more of his photos at his website, www.flyinghistory.com