Fighter planes were popularised by their extensive use in WWI. What Aerial weapons were used before that period (if any)? What is earliest recorded use of Aerial Attacking and what was the technology employed?

  • Do you actually mean aerial weapons or do you mean transport mechanisms? To me, Roman ballistae were aerial weapons!
    – Noldorin
    Oct 17, 2011 at 22:21
  • Not dogfights as such as aircrafts was used for reconnaissance, but it happened that pilots brought revolvers or hunting rifles with them. I even heard about one taking a brick with him to throw at enemy aircrafts.
    – liftarn
    Jun 10, 2014 at 8:25

2 Answers 2


Supposedly, the first time aviation was used in a war was during the American Civil War (meaning 1861). Both parties used balloons for reconnaissance, mostly hydrogen-filled. The balloons obviously couldn't be used for any kind of attack - they made a very big target and a single bullet was sufficient to ignite the hydrogen. Edit: It seems that first use of balloons for reconnaissance was earlier, during the French Revolution in 1794 (thanks @Nikko). The Austrians attempted to use balloons for bombing in 1849 and some of their successors apparently did so even with success - read the linked article.

The first time aviation played an important role was during World War I however (airplanes by then). It took some time to recognize the potential here, airplanes were mostly used for reconnaissance again. Using bombs was relatively rare and very experimental - typically the pilot would take a bomb and throw it overboard. As you can imagine, the precision of such bombing wasn't exactly high.

Air combat was also rare in WWI, with the necessary technologies still developing. The very first problem was mounting a machine gun so that it could shoot without damaging the propeller. Synchronized machine guns only became the accepted solution during the war, at the beginning of the war a bunch of other solutions were attempted as well. One option were machine guns mounted on the wings of the aircraft, the pilot then had to pull strings to trigger them (something that wasn't quite easy while steering the aircraft at the same time).

There is a large Wikipedia article on the use of aviation in World War I where you can find more details.

  • 3
    French revolutionary troops used balloons at the battle of Fleurus in 1794 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bataille_de_Fleurus_1794.JPG)
    – Nikko
    Oct 17, 2011 at 13:53
  • @Nikko: Thank you, I corrected my answer. Oct 17, 2011 at 13:58
  • how does ballon get used as reconnaissance? There has to be a man out there. how does the man communicate with generals below?
    – user4951
    Feb 19, 2012 at 16:03
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    @JimThio mostly the balloon would be tethered behind the front lines, messages passed down simply by dropping them over the side of the bucket, or along a zipline leading from the bucket to the ground (weighted of course with something).
    – jwenting
    May 7, 2013 at 9:14
  • Lowe's Civil War balloon actually had a telegraph sender for delivering reports to the ground rather than such ad-hoc arrangements.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 18, 2015 at 23:33

The first use of aeroplanes (as opposed to lighter-than-air balloons or dirigibles) in warfare occurred during the Italian invasion of Ottoman Libya in 1911. Airplanes were used initially for reconnaissance and then later in an improvised attack, when an Italian pilot dropped explosives by hand on Ottoman troops.

  • small detail: those explosives were literally sticks of dynamite (and sometimes hand grenades). Dedicated bombs didn't yet exist, were first adopted during WW1 from mortar rounds and artillery shells.
    – jwenting
    Apr 2, 2014 at 10:57

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