A group of RAF aircrafts flying in a grey sky.

As 100 RAF aircraft flew down the Mall today to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force, we can look back at one of Fred Lanchester’s most important publications written at the beginning of WWI and published in its entirety in 1916.

“Aircraft in Warfare: The Dawn of the Fourth Arm” was initially a series of articles published in the “Engineer” periodical between September and December 1914 and then published in 1916 by Fred.

It explored many of his ideas about the use of aircraft for military and naval purposes at the present time and in the future.  Bearing in mind this only came a little over a decade since the first ever heavier than air powered flights of the Wright Brothers, it contains some fascinating insights and predictions that have become true over the last 100 years.

Despite the onset of WWI, the use of aircraft was really was only limited to reconnaissance but Fred correctly predicted that air power would rapidly become the ‘Fourth Arm’ (after infantry, cavalry and artillery) for offence.  He said that as well as reconnaissance, aircraft would carry out bomb, torpedo and gun-carrying roles.

He also expanded on his ‘n-squared’ law where he stated that he the fighting strength of a force is proportional to the (Numerical strength)² x fighting value of the individual units.

He also imagined vertical take off aircraft that would wait on their tails ready to lift off at short notice and said that:

…the day when the propellor thrust can be caused at will to exceed the total weight of the machine…will be the day on which…the conquest of the air will be complete”

Amongst his other theories and predictions that have transpired he foresaw extending planes range by being able to land on water and refuel – hydro-aeroplanes or seaplanes as we see today; aircraft carriers with flat tops for landing planes at sea; air raids (and the damage they might do to cities like London); flying aircraft in a V formation to reduce drag and fuel use and the lack of success of zepplins and dirigibles comercially and for military use.

100 years on from the formation of the RAF at the end of WWI and 104 years on from his original ideas as laid out in “Aircraft in Warfare” it might be strange to think that his ideas were seen as outlandish and not taken seriously at the time.  However it’s clear that so many of them have come true and shaped the face of military use of the skies even today.

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