By BOB JAQUES
Hundreds of spectators gathered Oct. 1-2, 2016, on the grassy field along a seldom used runway in Dayton, Ohio, to watch World War I replica airplanes have mock dogfights as they flew overhead. The rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire could be heard over the loudspeakers as the airplanes approached the crowd overhead.
The replica airplanes were mostly hand-made by their owners of wood, painted fabric, and wire cables. The majority are 7/8 scale of the original size and included Fokker D-VIIs, Nieuports, SPADS, and a German Siemens-Schuckert D-1. A full-size restored original JN4 “Jenny” also was part of the event, one of seven Jennys still flying.
Unfortunately this year, the weather did not co-operate as it rained off and on both days. It caused attendance to be lower than expected and prevented some of the airplanes and autos from participating. About half of the expected 19 airplanes did not attend.
The occasion was part of the 100th anniversary of World War I, which began in 1914 and ended in 1918. Although World War I was mainly fought by European countries, the U.S. entered the war in April 1917.
The last Dawn Patrol hosted by the museum was in September 2014. In 2013, the U.S. Congress established the World War I Centennial Commission to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.
The term “Dawn Patrol” came from the practice of pilots taking off from airfields just before dawn so they would be in position to engage the enemy with the sun in their backs. This meant the enemy had difficulty spotting them with sun in their eyes.
In addition to the excitement of the flying airplanes, the public had an opportunity to view various military campsites created by re-enactors who were dressed in the uniforms of German, Scottish, British, Australian, Canadian, and U.S. units.
Besides old flying airplanes and realistic campsites, there was a large number of radio-controlled airplanes that filled the sky when the replica airplanes were on the ground for static display. From a distance the radio-controlled airplanes looked like the real ones.
Parked in the center of the grassy field were six antique automobiles that were in beautiful condition. They were driven in tandum up and down the runway throughout the day by their owners dressed in period clothing.
There were 10 antique automobiles scheduled, but due to the bad weather only six arrived. They were a 1912 Buick; a 1909 Maxwell; a 1911 Ford; a 1910 Buick; a 1912 McLaughlin; and a 1911 Davis.
As with most large shows of this type, there were vendors selling all types of aviation memorabilia, and there were some unique exhibits, including an original Mercedes 6-cylinder aircraft engine complete with Spandau machine gun mounted on the back.
Another unique exhibit was an original World War I rotary engine on a stand. It was started several times during each day to show how it works. This engine had the cylinders turn around the crankshaft, which is opposite of most engines. This rotary engine is one of less than 10 original working rotary engines in the world.
According to Air Force Museum Historian Doug Lantry, “The technology and the techniques and tools that were developed during the war really set the stage for aviation for the rest of the century.”
The next Dawn Patrol event will be in the fall of 2018 at the Air Force museum in Dayton.