The Legacy of Flight

Images from the archives of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

Otto Lilienthal gliding. (NASM)

Aerial Photography


Trenches stitched across the patchwork of farmland near a French village mark this World War I aerial reconnaissance photograph. Also caught in the frame is a French or British Nieuport 11, a single-seat fighter also used for observation. Tracking the movement of enemy forces, traditionally done by cavalry, was the first effective military use of aircraft. Observation aircraft played decisive roles in some of the early battles, before the combatants began developing better defenses against them, such as airplanes expressly designed to shoot down other airplanes.


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