We made a trip to see grandma this weekend. Born in 1914, she’ll be 98 years old next March. Things might be getting a little fuzzy for her, but her mind is still pretty sharp. We talked for a couple hours and ate lunch. It was a good time, even though it was brief.
A century…grandma’s nearly made it, and she’s seen an unbelievable amount of change, though she’s lived in pretty much the same rural area her entire life. Telephones, televisions, engine-powered lawn mowers, computers, automobiles, paved streets, credit cards, a major stock market crash, a pair of world wars, ten-speed bicycles, three-speed washing machines, microwave ovens, turntables…how long do I work on this list? True, some of these devices were already around when grandma was born, but most were not, and all of them came into their own during her century.
I should add one more to the list…airplanes. They’ve progressed quite a bit in the last century as well. From the Wright brothers and Kitty Hawk to the brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, we’ve seen an incredible transition. For military aircraft, the changes have perhaps been even more remarkable. There were biplanes, monoplanes, and piston-engined fighters and bombers. Then came the 1940s and the transition to jet power. It was followed by advanced avionics, fly-by-wire technology, and terrain-following. Today, as the F-35 Lightning II enters production, we might be seeing the last generation of human-powered fighters. We’ve come a long ways.
But for the military, it all started a century ago. One hundred years ago today, on October 23, 1911, Captain Carlo Piazza made history, though he probably didn’t realize it. The racing pilot (not that planes went all that fast in 1911) climbed into the cockpit of a Bleriot XI, probably knowing full well he wouldn’t be setting any speed records. The small monoplane was powered by a 20-horsepower 3-cylinder engine (your little Smart car makes way more power) and could reach a blistering speed of 45 mph in level flight…barely enough to avoid a “too slow” ticket on today’s Interstates.
But the intrepid Piazza took to the skies anyways, flying a recon mission in the Turco-Italian War. It was the first time an airplane had been used in wartime…ever…for any reason. From there, things would advance rapidly. Bombing missions were introduced little more than a week later, true fighters and bombers would arrive on the scene shortly, and a quantum leap in warfare had taken place.