College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
BA (Bachelor of Arts)
Session and Year of Graduation
Honors Major Advisor
H. Glenn Penny
This thesis analyzes the British and German air forces during the First World War, and the various uses of planes and the men that flew them. Pilots were valued militarily, but their uses went beyond pure battle strategy and militaristic accomplishments. From the beginning of the 20th century, Europe had been infatuated with the idea of airfare and its potential power, and Europeans were also obsessed with the heroic pilots that flew them. Some of Europe’s most famous authors including H.G. Wells and Jules Verne heavily featured pilots as their glamorous, daring and brave heroes, so when the war broke out, many young men who had grown up listening and reading about pilots wanted to join the newly created air forces. The Royal Flying Corps and the Luftstreitkräfte faced tough opposition from the more traditional military branches at the beginning of the war, but would soon rise to power as reconnaissance was realized as useful, and dogfighting became an unmatched spectacle on the Western front, akin to a boxing match or other sporting event. Aces started to become recognized military and public figures. With airpower’s growing importance in the military, pilots became famous and enjoyed privileges that no other branch had. Government propaganda agencies realized pilots’ popularity and worked to use the image of the chivalrous knight in the sky for morale and recruitment purposes, in opposition to the anonymous and nameless face in trench warfare. This image turned flying into the ultimate game, and ignored the stressful reality of life as a fighter pilot. My thesis reconciles the alluring image of the flying ace with the alcoholism, debauchery, and danger that became so prevalent throughout the war, and the impact that the new technology had on the war and the men above the front lines. Using media such as film, newspapers, and memoirs, government propagandists were able to create a romanticized image of the flying ace that they could align with their own nation’s image in order to boost military and homefront morale.
WWI, propaganda, pilot, Great Britain, Germany, military
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