At the outbreak of the First World War few people believed that aircraft would play a major role in the conflict. Hot air balloons had been used for observation and reconnaissance for almost 100 years and it was thought aircraft would serve a similar purpose. As the war developed the race for superior air power began, shaping the history of human flight as we know it. Alongside the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) grew from a force of a few hundred aeroplanes in 1914 into a huge, independent air arm of thousands of combat and support aircraft.
Pilots, observers and aircrews risked their lives testing the new technology to its limits. Deployed above the battlefields, often beyond the call of duty, they suffered the previously unknown effects of altitude, G-forces and freezing temperatures. Later, they also faced great personal danger presented by enemy guns and combat fighters. In this guest blog post, Charlotte Czyzyk from Imperial War Museum tells the story of the First World War in the air.