About ten years after the Wright brothers made the first powered flight, there was still much to be improved upon. Because of limitations of the engine power of the time, the effective payload of aircraft was extremely limited. They were made mostly of hardwood (braced with steel wires) and linen fabric doped with flammable liquid to give them the stiffness required to form a wing surface. Aside from these primitive materials, the rudimentary aviation engineering of the time meant most aircraft were structurally fragile by later standards, and not infrequently broke up in flight especially when performing violent combat manoeuvres such as pulling up from steep dives.
As early as 1909, these evolving flying machines were recognised to be not just toys, but weapons.
In 1911, Captain Bertram Dickson, the first British military officer to fly, also correctly prophesied the military use of aircraft. He predicted aircraft would first be used for reconnaissance, but this would develop into each side trying to "hinder or prevent the enemy from obtaining information", which would eventually turn into a battle for control of the skies. This is exactly the sequence of events that would occur several years later.
The first operational use of aircraft in war took place on 23 October 1911 in the Italo-Turkish War, when Captain Carlo Piazza made historyâ€™s first reconnaissance flight near Benghazi in a BlÃ©riot XI.
From the very start, there was some debate over the uses (or usefulness) of aircraft in warfare. Many senior officers, in particular, remained skeptical.
In Germany the great successes of the early Zeppelin airships had largely overshadowed the importance of heavier-than-air aircraft. Out of a paper strength of about 230 aircraft belonging to the army in August 1914 only 180 or so were of any use. The French military aviation exercises of 1911, 1912, and 1913 had pioneered cooperation with the cavalry (reconnaissance) and artillery (spotting), but the momentum was if anything slacking. Great Britain had "started late" and initially relied largely on the French aircraft industry, especially for aircraft engines. The initial British contribution to the total allied airwar effort in August 1914 (of about 184 aircraft) was three squadrons with about 30 serviceable machines. The US army and navy air services were hopelessly behind â€“ even in 1917, when the United States entered the war, they were to be almost totally dependent on the French and British aircraft industries for combat aircraft.