WW1 Aviation Communications
June 22, 2009 2:57 PM   Subscribe

How did pilots communicate with each other in World War 1?

There is some spotty info out there about one-way air-to-ground communication in two-seaters using morse code, and a bit about radio tests during the late war, but how did pilots dogfighting in single-seaters communicate? Did they use hand signals? Were they solitary enough on missions that this wasn't even an issue? Was radio more prevalent than I have been led to believe?
posted by adamdschneider to Technology (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
according to some midnight show on the history channel about 3 years ago, they used hand signals rarely and mostly just trained to go with no communication.

(I have no legitimate citation for that, sorry.)
posted by cmchap at 3:01 PM on June 22, 2009

Hand signals, plane movements, and flares.

"Anyway here they are: If the flight leader is about to make a sharp turn, he drops his wing on that side. If he is going into a steep dive he holds up an arm. If he wants the flight to close up or wants to point something out, he "shakes both wings." If it is an EA he "shakes his wings, and points and fires his guns." If he means 'yes' he bobs his nose up and down. If he means 'no,' he shakes his wings.

If a flight members sees an EA that the leader does not see, the pilot in his words, "we fire our guns fly up in front and point."

If the fight leader is having trouble (engine?) and wants the flight to continue on, he fires a red flare from his Very pistol. If he wants his pilots to follow him out of a fight he fires a "white light." If he wants to signal the other flights, he fires a green flare."
posted by zamboni at 3:02 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not that it's quite the same, but I remember playing multiplayer games before they had chat. There was a lot of "wiggle in place so other player notices you, then nudge in direction you want them to go..." type pantomime.

I imagine there was a lot of this. Shared tactics plus hang (or wing) signals.
posted by rokusan at 3:56 PM on June 22, 2009

I highly recommend The Blue Max, starring the very underrated George Peppard, for anyone into WWI dogfighting. In-air communication (or the failure thereof) plays a role in a critical scene.
posted by stargell at 5:30 PM on June 22, 2009

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