If the Wright brothers' 1903 flights in Kitty Hawk marked the birth of aviation, World War I can be called its violent adolescence—a brief but bloody era that completely changed the way planes were designed, fabricated, and flown. The war forged an industry that would redefine transportation and warfare for future generations. In First to Fly, historian Charles Bracelen Flood tells the story of the men who were at the forefront of that revolution: the daredevil Americans of the Lafayette Escadrille.
As citizens of a neutral nation from 1914 to early 1917, Americans were prohibited from serving in a foreign army, but many brave young souls soon made their way into European battle zones as ambulance drivers, nurses, and more dangerously, as soldiers in the French Foreign Legion. It was partly from the ranks of the latter group that the Lafayette Escadrille was formed in 1916 as the first and only all-American squadron in the French Air Service. Flying rudimentary planes, against one-in-three odds of being killed, these fearless young men gathered reconnaissance and shot down enemy aircraft, participated in the Battle of Verdun, and faced off with the Red Baron.
Drawing on rarely seen primary sources, Flood chronicles the startling success of that intrepid band and gives a compelling look at the rise of aviation and a new era of warfare.
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“A perfect fit for the center of a trilogy of the beginning of aviation [alongside David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers and John F. Ross’ Enduring Courage]…These three excellent books clearly show how the Wright Brothers’ achievement at Kitty Hawk and their sound basic technology was picked up by the Europeans and how the wartime scenario in 1914 accelerated development of observation, pursuit, and bomber aircraft.”