Legend, Memory and the Great War in the Air

An impression many people have of World War I is that of gallant fighter pilots dueling high above the grim trenches, in a realm where combat was ruled by a code of honor, victory brought glory, and death came quickly and cleanly. The true nature of aerial combat was quite different. This exhibition reexamines aviation during World War I and contrasts romance with reality.

Displays of popular culture show how some of these myths were passed on, while other exhibits examine the many new roles aircraft played during the war, from battlefield reconnaissance to strategic bombing. The gallery features several rare airplanes: German Pfalz D.XII, Albatros D.Va, and Fokker D.VII fighters; a British Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe fighter; and a French SPAD XIII fighter and Voisin VIII bomber.


Fokker D.VII

Fokker D.VII
This Fokker D.VII was manufactured by the Ostdeutsche Albatros Werke (East German Albatros Works) in 1918. Its pilot, Lt. Heinz von Beaulieu-Marconnay, had served with the 10th ULAN (Cavalry) Regiment before becoming a pilot. To honor his old unit, von Beaulieu-Marconnay marked his fighter with the legend "U.10". The aircraft was captured on November 9, 1918, when its pilot mistakenly landed at an airfield occupied by the U.S. Army Air Service's 95th Squadron.

More information: Fokker D.VII

Spad XIII "Smith IV"

The French SPAD XIII displayed here was built by the Kellner et SesFils Piano Works. On September 15, 1918, it was assigned to the 22nd Aero Pursuit Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Service, which was taking part in the Saint-Mihiel offensive. The aircraft entered combat during this campaign, and by the end of the war six victories had been scored in it by various pilots.

American ace Arthur Raymond "Ray" Brooks of the 22nd Aero Pursuit Squadron, who first flew the SPAD in combat, named it Smith IV. The name referred to the college his fiance attended and the fact that it was the fourth SPAD he had flown.

The Smithsonian Institution acquired the SPAD XIII in 1919 and alternately displayed and stored it in its original condition for many years. Time, however, took its toll and eventually Smith IV, its fabric rotted and its tires missing, was finally left in storage. Smith IV eventually underwent a two-year restoration process, which was completed in 1986.

More information: SPAD XIII "Smith IV"

Sopwith Snipe (7.F.1)

Sopwith Snipe
The Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe exhibited here is one of only two surviving intact examples of the type. Although its wartime record remains obscure, its serial number indicates that it was built by the Ruston Proctor Company in August 1918. It was purchased after the war by Arthur Le Barron and shipped to the United States. After passing through the hands of three other owners, the Snipe was acquired in 1951 by Cole Palen and became part of the collection of the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome Museum in Rhinebeck, New York.

After Palen lent the aircraft to the National Air and Space Museum in 1988, it was restored and repainted in the colors of No. 4 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps. The museum obtained ownership of the Snipe after the death of Cole Palen in 1994 as a bequest in his will.

More information: Sopwith Snipe

Voisin (8)

Voisin VIII
The Voisin bomber served in theaters of the war as different as the freezing Russian plains and the broiling Mesopotamian desert. For flying over the snow-covered expanse of central Russia, the Imperial Russian Air Service substituted skis for rubber wheels. Equally adaptable to desert conditions, the sturdy Voisin VIII was used by the British Royal Flying Corps in the Middle East for observation, reconnaissance, and bombing.

Shortly after the United States entered the war on April 7, 1917, the U.S. War Department's Bureau of Military Aeronautics purchased this Voisin VIII, along with two other French aircraft under consideration for production in the United States. In 1918 the U.S. Army transferred the aircraft to the Smithsonian Institution, where it was exhibited for 10 years, then placed in storage. More than 60 years later, in 1989, the Voisin VIII was removed from storage and restored for this exhibition.

More information: Voisin VIII

Albatros D.Va

Albatros D.Va
The wartime history of this Albatros D.Va is uncertain. It is believed that the Ostdeutsche Albatros Werke (East German Albatros Works) manufactured the aircraft in late 1917 and delivered it to Jasta 46 (Fighter Squadron 46) in the spring of 1918. Like many aircraft that participated in the German offensive of March 1918, it carries transitional markings, consisting of old-style eisernes Kreuz (iron cross) insignia on the upper wing and Balkenkreuz (Latin cross) insignia on the fuselage and lower wings. This unusual combination not only dates the aircraft's capture at some time in April 1918, but also illustrates the hectic pace of flight operations, which caused even partially repainted aircraft to be flown in combat.

More information: Albatros D.Va

Pfalz D.XII

Pfalz D.XII
The Pfalz D.XII first appeared on the Western Front in mid-1918. It was built as a replacement for the outdated Albatros D.Va, the Fokker triplane, and earlier Pfalz designs. The wartime history of this particular aircraft is obscure. After the war it was one of two Pfalz D.XIIs brought to this country as part of Allied war reparations.

In 1928 it was purchased as war surplus and brought to Hollywood for use in the 1930 version of The Dawn Patrol. For its role in this film, the Pfalz D.XII was given a fictitious red color scheme and a distinctive skull and crossbones on its fuselage. In the film, it was flown by the fictitious ace von Richter, a stereotypically fearsome German fighter pilot.

Howard Hughes later purchased it for his film Hell's Angels. The aircraft was stored on a back lot until 1938, when it was purchased by Louis C. Kennell, Paramount Pictures' property manager, who restored it for the 1938 film Men with Wings. The Smithsonian Institution later acquired the aircraft and refurbished it for use in this exhibition.

More information: Pfalz D.XII