100 years ago, an airman’s diary charts the terrifying first flights of World War 1

This weekend marks 100 years since some of the first reconnaissance flights of World War 1. Here, we look at a diary extract from one of the airmen who took part, as featured in the course “Aviation Comes of Age.”

An airman's diary from World War 1.

Think of the battlegrounds of WW1 and you’ll probably think of the muddied trenches of northern France. But the skies above them also saw action, as aircraft began to play a role in combat for the very first time.

This weekend marks 100 years since some of the first reconnaissance flights of the conflict – a little over a decade after the Wright brothers’ first powered flight, airmen took to the skies in very basic machines, to spy on enemy lines.

As the video below shows, it was a terrifying experience. The film features an extract from the diary of airman, Philip Joubert de la Ferte, dated 23 August 1914, as well as the bullets that hit his plane.

© Copyright BBC, Royal Air Force Museum and University of Birmingham. 

The footage is taken from the free online course “Aviation Comes of Age’”on FutureLearn. Produced by the University of Birmingham in collaboration with the BBC and filmed at the Royal Air Force Museum, it draws on similar archive material throughout, to chart the rapid evolution of aviation during WW1.

If you’d like to learn more and hear accounts from others fighting at the time, you can join the course now.

Category Learning
Aviation Comes of Age

Aviation Comes of Age

Investigate how the white heat of innovation in World War 1 shaped the history of human flight.

Join this free online course

Comments (4)


  • Doug Humphries

    There is a wonderful book on the history of WWI aviation called “Years of the Sky Kings”, by Arch Whitehouse, who was actually a pilot during the war.

  • irene Ingley

    It is amazing to think that mankind hasn’t learn’t think before acting and ready to kill for the reason such religeious beliefs.Etc. although I love history it would be nice to see non violent history..and love our fellow man no matter what we think of the polkitics.. and take the roll of Jesus.

    • Zahir Young

      Hello Irene, I love what you have written the words think before acting, If we lived by this principle alone the world would be a better place. Violence has been part of history even before Christ came down to earth, The very reason Why he came, If only people can believe in this with all honesty. We would think twice before we act in any way, that would cause harm to mankind.

  • Roger Kerby

    In 1956,whilst in hospital, I met an ex-world war pilot, Harry Page, who told me many gripping tales of his exploits in the confict, of landing with his undercarriage shot away etc. He died during my stay there. If this is of interest, let me know.