Today in Technology History

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October 23

Yesterday, we discussed the first manned parachute jump. We return to the skies today, because the first use of airplanes in a military capacity was exactly 90 years ago.

Military aviation of course predates the airplane: balloons and other lighter-than-air craft have been used for military purposes. But the Wright Brothers knew their invention would transform warfare, and after a long period of initial skepticism from the U.S. Army, the Wrights started training the first American military pilots in 1909.

A sketch of the Blériot XI, the sort of plane used 90 years ago in the first military airplane mission.But America wasn't the first country to use planes in warfare -- Italy was. In 1911, Italy and the Ottoman Turks were fighting over territory in what is now Libya. On October 23, Italian Capt. Carlo Piazza flew a Blériot XI monoplane on a one-hour reconnaissance mission to study Turkish troop positions. He thus piloted the first spy plane.

Nine days later, using the information Piazza had collected, the Italians carried out history's first airplane bombing raid against the Turks.

In the following years, the Italian air force flew and fought in colonial warfare, civil warfare and European warfare. The Italians pioneered in the areas of reconnaissance and bombing flights, both daytime and nighttime. Italy dropped the first propaganda leaflets. They innovated in paratrooper practices, and during World War I the Italians conducted some of the first mass aerial attacks.

By the start of World War II, Italy had one of the world's largest air forces, the Regia Aeronautica, with 3600 aircraft. But they were neutralized surprisingly quickly, and the Italian air force played almost no role in that war.

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