Sergeant Samuel Galan of U.S. Marine light helicopter attack squadron HMLA-169 breaks up a Taliban ambush in Helmand province, Afghanistan, using a minigun mounted in a Bell UH-1Y Venom helicopter gunship on Feb. 3, 2013. (Corporal Alejandro Pena (U.S. Marine Corps))
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From 1794, when French balloonists dropped messages from the basket of l’Entreprenant to report on Austrian troop movements to the first use of Morse code conveyed by electrical cables by Union aeronauts in 1861, armies developed means of coordinating intelligence gathered from the air to their forces on the ground quickly enough for it to be useful. The airplane entered the picture in 1911 during the Italian invasion of Ottoman-held Libya, when the first scouting flight was followed within days by the first hand-dropped explosives. In 1912 British experiments with wireless signaling enabled the airplane to provide troops and artillerists what they needed to know in real time, and throughout World War I improvements in the aircraft led to more means of harnessing their potential to provide well-coordinated close air support. By 1918 that included airdrops of ammunition and supplies, as well as specialized ground attack planes, taking the fight down on the enemy.
Introduced to military use during World War II and made practical during the Korean War, the helicopter became an indispensable supplement to the airplane, with the added advantage of being able to land and depart from terrain where an airplane could not—a critical asset to which many a medevaced soldier owed his life.