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Powered flight had barely advanced past infancy by 1914, when the assassination of Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo sent Europe plunging into World War I. While ground forces in western Europe settled into a miserable stalemate inside a network of trenches that grew to zigzag across the continent, a new breed of warrior took the fight into the skies. Despite the aura of romance bestowed on these “knights of the air,” the aviators’ war was miserable in its own way. Pilots lucky enough to survive their training faced long odds once they reached the front, where the average life expectancy for fliers was no more than six weeks. 

Still, the idea of fighting among the clouds excited the imagination, and that was something governments sought to exploit. By celebrating war’s glamour, colorful posters attempted to lure new recruits into the flying services, raise money through war bonds and arouse patriotic emotions. The air war may have been hell for its participants, but it could be made to look exciting and romantic for those on the outside. 

Click on a poster to launch the gallery.