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Ready for trouble, pilot Sergeant Georges Brou mans a Browning machine gun and his observer, Sub-Lieutenant Jean Billon de Plan, raises his Hotchkiss to practice dealing with an attack from behind in a newly delivered Maurice Farman MF.11bis of escadrille MF.62 at Breuil-le-Sec aerodrome in September 1915. On April 27, 1916, Billon de Plan shot down an attacking Fokker E.III fighter. His luck ran out on October 10, however, when he was shot in the head by one of three attacking Albatros D.IIs and his wounded pilot, Sergeant Roger Thuau, was forced to land their Nieuport 12bs in German lines. Thuau was later visited by his three assailants and their leader, who was credited with him as his 14th victory, expressed his regrets at Billon de Plan’s death and left him a photograph signed “to my brave enemy,” from Lieutenant Wilhelm Frankl commander of Jagdstaffel 4. (U.S. Air Force)

A truck hauls German Lieutenant Emil Thuy’s dismantled Albatros D.V along a country road as Royal Saxon Jagdstaffel 21 moves to a new airfield in July 1917. Thuy claimed a French Spad that month for his fourth victory and raised his score to 13 before transferring to take command of Royal Württemberg Jasta 28, surviving the war with a total of 35 and award of the Orden Pour le Mérite. He was killed in an air accident while clandestinely training German pilots in the Soviet Union on June 11, 1930. (National Archives)

First Lieutenant Edward Vernon Rickenbacker smiles for the camera from the cockpit of a Nieuport 28 of the 94th Aero Squadron at Gengoult aerodrome near Toul in northeastern France in May 1918. With the French air service committed to the Spad XIII, Nieuport 28s were bought by the United States to serve in four of its squadrons until more Spads became available. Rickenbacker was credited with five victories in Nieuports and would later command the 94th and score another 21 victories flying Spad XIIIs to become the war’s American ace of aces, as well as receiving the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Air Force)

German ground crewmen place 220-lb. bombs under the wings of a Gotha G.V, which also has two 660-lb. bombs in the center rack. Entering service in August 1917, the G.V moved the fuel tanks from the engine nacelles, as on the earlier G.II, G.III and G.IV, to a less hazardous location in the fuselage behind the pilot. In spite of its refinements, however, the G.V was so much heavier than its predecessors that its performance was not better, averaging about 80 mph in the series of bombing raids the Germans launched against London until May 19, 1918. (National Archives)

The pilot of a German Gotha G.V demonstrates the use of an oxygen respirator apparatus. As altitudes exceeded 18,000 feet, the thinner atmosphere became detrimental to the airmen’s health, contributing to fatigue and deteriorating alertness. A supplemental oxygen supply, administered through a primitive mouth tube, was among the first attempts to deal with the problem. (National Archives)

Two Fokker Dr.Is marked with the yellow cowlings and tails of Royal Prussian Jasta 27 are readied for takeoff at Halluin-Ost aerodrome in May 1918—with rather questionable safety standards suggested by the mechanic lighting another’s cigarette so close to the aircraft in the foreground. In the background is one of the first Fokker D.VII biplane fighters to arrive, to ultimately replace the triplanes as Germany’s premier fighter. (National Archives)

Ground crewmen help guide a Jasta 27 Fokker Dr.I into position for takeoff at Halluin-Ost near Flanders in May 1918. The Staffel was then commanded by 1st Lt. Hermann Göring, whose skill and leadership—at squadron level, at least—earned him the Orden Pour le Mérite and, in July 1918, command of Jagdgeschwader I, the late Manfred von Richthofen’s “Flying Circus.” Göring finished the war with 22 victories and went on to infamy as Reichsmarschall in command of Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe. (National Archives)

An armorer loads grenades into the rack of a Halberstadt CL.II of Royal Bavarian Schlachtstaffel 27 for a ground support mission in May 1918, during Germany’s last great offensive on the Western Front. Signal flares are placed atop the turtledeck aft of the observer’s position. The Halberstadt CL.II was one of the first aircraft designed for ground attack and close support duties, with the crew close together for maximum cooperation and a section of thin armor plate to help protect them from ground fire. (National Archives)

The German air crewman of a Rumpler C.VII puts on his gloves while a ground crewman adds an electrically heated face mask. The Rumpler reconnaissance planes used altitude as their main defense during their missions deep into enemy territory, the C.VII being able to reach 24,000 feet, beyond the capabilities of most Allied fighters. The air was thin and the temperature low at such heights, however, requiring oxygen respirators and electrically heated suits to keep the crew at maximum efficiency. (National Archives)

Second Lieutenant Frank Luke of the U.S. 27th Aero Squadron poses over the wreckage of an LVG C.V reconnaissance plane he shot down to top off a mission on September 18, 1918, in which he had previously burned two balloons and downed two Fokker D.VII fighters in half an hour. In spite of his triumph, Luke’s face betrays the anxiety of having lost track of his wingman and best friend, 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, who in fact had been shot down and killed by Lieutenant Georg von Hantelmann of Jasta 15. Luke himself would be brought down mortally wounded by ground fire after destroying three balloons on September 29, raising his total to 18, and would posthumously become the first member of the U.S. Army Air Service to receive the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Army)

Survivors of the original contingent of the U.S. 96th Aero Squadron—2nd Lt. Avrom Hexter, 1st Lt. Samuel Hunt, 1st Lt. David Young and 1st Lt.. Howard Rath—pose before one of their Breguet 14B2 bombers on November 12, 1918, one day after the armistice. With a steel tube fuselage frame, the Breguet 14 was an extraordinarily sturdy plane, but the 96th suffered heavy losses through six months of constant flying into enemy territory, in the face of some of the deadliest fighter opposition the Germans had left to offer. (U.S. Air Force)