The white flag is the classic sign of requesting surrender, ceasefire or parlay in military contexts, yet it is unfortunately rather unwieldy to take with one on a fighter patrol, or use during one.

Conditions on the sky would often make winning the engagement or disengaging impossible. Onboard radios were only coming in slowly and using one would require knowing the opponent's frequency --- as well as an opponent who had a radio, too!

This answer in Aviation.SE suggests there's no universal signal for surrender. Was there a widely used signal in use during WWI? If not, what were the common ways of indicating surrender during that period?


Surrender in air combat is meaningless - as there is no means to yield possession of the plane or offer one's person up as a captive. Instead, the concept of interest is escape. One might attempt this either powered or unpowered.

If a powered escape was attempted, it is likely that a pursuit would occur. This was one of the Red Baron's favourite ruses, with himself as the bait. He was shot down and killed, most likely by ground fire despite other claims, during one such attempt when he pulled out of his dive too low to the ground.

An unpowered dive involved turning off the engine and feigning an engine conkout. Pursuit might still occur, but not as reliably. Then one would restore power and pull out of the dive at a low altitude and return to base. This is a mandatory maneuver for all pilots to perform as part of obtaining their Pilot's Licence, and is quite safe provided the engine has not been damaged.

If one has performed a long unpowered dive it would usually be pointless to attempt return to the dogfight - the time necessary to return to altitude ensured that the dogfight was likely over, and most certainly would have relocated at least.

  • Could surrender not be achieved by steering and landing the plane to the enemy side, with the appropriate gesturing (and probable escort) to indicate to ground forces and crews that a surrender is taking place? – kviiri Oct 26 '18 at 5:54
  • how would you restart the engine ? Were not WW1 and sometimes 2 aircraft cranked manually ? – bigbadmouse Oct 26 '18 at 7:45
  • 5
    @bigbadmouse Air makes the idle propeller spin. It's not different as how you can restart a car engine while moving downhill just by engaging a gear. – Pere Oct 26 '18 at 8:20

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