Significant developments in aviation occurred across Europe and North America during the First World War. Having entered combat nearly three years before the U.S. Congress’s declaration of war in April 1917, researchers and engineers in France and Germany, especially, created important developments that transformed a fledgling industry into an important component of military operations.
Developments in aviation in the United States lagged far behind those in Europe. A battle over patent infringement between Orville Wright (and his brother Wilbur, before his death in 1912) and Glenn Curtiss, especially, held back technological development in the United States, as did a limited market for airplanes. Often costing between $5,000 and $10,000 apiece (between roughly $87,000 and $173,000 in 2015 dollars) and requiring extensive space for takeoffs and landings, only the rich and governments could afford to purchase a piece of an invention just over a decade old. Government – and specifically military – support was vital to the development of aviation throughout the world, and the course of the First World War in Europe demonstrated this. Though they began 1914 with small air forces poorly integrated with existing branches of the military, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom were among the countries where air corps grew rapidly after Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo. As the war developed, European militaries called for increasingly specialized airplanes that could scout enemy positions, pursue enemy fighters, and bomb enemy positions, types of airplanes that did not exist before the war.