Aviation: A Brief History from the Eyes of A Social Scientist.

Various aircrafts existed through history. Source: https://static.posters.cz/image/1300/poster/history-of-aviation-i14204.jpg

Aviation effected human societies in terms of various social dimensions: economic, social, politics, etc. As a social scientist, I will try to explain these in a discussive way.

Developments in Aviation During World War One

Courtesy: RAF Museum Source: bbc.com

In this part, It is tried to explain developments in aviation during World War One, from perspectives based on technology (design), roles, history and several societal effects.

Advances About Design WWI has an importance because we can see the first steps of creation of air fighters. According to Wikipedia (2018), Louis Quenault, who was a French pilot, used a machine gun firstly to open a fire on a German aircraft, in1914. After this experiment, the war on the air had been changed essentially. Especially after 1915, Germans solved synchronisation problem, which was about the problem to fire through the arch of propeller. Due to this experiment, Germans achieved air superiority, because they earned huge capability to block missions of allied reconnaissance aircrafts. On the other hand, effective usage of aircrafts for areal information changed the artillery because the information supplied by aircrafts gave more chance to plan tactical artillery combats.

Duties Expected and In Reality Essentially, Aircrafts were used for collecting information about military activities of the enemy. However, some experiments, like what French pilot Quenault done in 1914, opens new doors to new duties and expectations. Military aviation steered to offensive roles, sophisticated bombardment and air fighting equipment shows that. This attracted more synergy to develop more useful usage in offensive roles in WW1 era and aftermath of this war.

Turkish Aviation During WWI In the beginning of the war, Ottoman Air Force had limited number of planes, but this changed by help of Germans, who helped a number of aircraft for the usage of Ottoman Empire (Hava Kuvvetleri Komutanlığı, n.d.). According to interview of İlber Ortaylı, who is significant figure on the history science (especially Ottoman history), aircrafts were used for reconnaissance and intelligence duties (Ortaylı, 2015). During the Çanakkale War, Ottoman military had used navy personnel due to lack of educated pilots. These navy originated pilots took danger and done formal duties against allied forces. Furthermore, according to Ortaylı, pilots took nails on their flights and spread them to enemy positions.

Effects of Military Aviation on Economy, Politics and Society With more sophisticated usage of airplanes, the first essential steps about war economy had taken. Consumption of airplanes as a military commodity increased new industrial opportunities in the aviation industry. Moreover, well-industrialized states become more powerful in the wars with the usage of aircrafts, which had totally changed paradigms in international politics. With the usage of aircrafts as a bomber made cities more open and defenceless, therefore this increased panic within society. For example, in the same interview (2015), Ortaylı commented that allied forces throws hot nails, from the skies of Istanbul. Buildings in Istanbul were constructed with wooden materials generally, and as a result, huge fire disasters were occurred because of these.

Aviation During the Interwar Period

The USS Los Angeles, a US Navy airship built in Germany by the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin (Zeppelin Airship Company). Source: Wikipedia

During the interwar period, aviation had become more important. Explorations and developments in aeronautical science improved production of more airplanes, which made aviation industry more developed than pre-war era. The developments in scientific management and mass production techniques had reflections on economy, also aviation industry.

Advances in Aviation Engineering After the WWI, there had been enormous advancements in aviation engineering, this is why the era is called Golden Age of Aviation (Pattillo, 1998). Rather than a generally wooden and fabric materials, improvements enabled usage of metal materials in construction, which means durability. The usage of duralumin in airplanes entered stronger and as well as lighter airplanes. This kind of alloy used firstly in Junkers J-1 monoplane (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2017). Furthermore, governments and investors started to give attention to aviation industry. Many institutions and funds established for aeronautical research. These research establishments made notable improvements. For example, in the year of 1928, researchers of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, located in the US, made an experiment which enabled to combine pilot’s responses, electronic signals and instruments of airplane, which provided an opportunity for more safety during the flights which have to be done in low eyesight (during night, i.e.) (2017).

Effects on Society Curiosity about aviation and aeronautics has increased notably with effective usage of airplanes in economic, politic and military reasons. First occurrence of corporations devoted to civil aviation can be seen. For example, British firm called Air Transport and Travel Ltd., which was one of the earliest airlines in the world, started first flights from London to Paris in 1919. In the same year, Dutch state-owned airline, Koninklijke Luchtvaartmaatschappij NV (abbreviated as KLM) started its operations with flight from London to Amsterdam; which makes KLM the world’s oldest continuously operating airline (2016). In addition to this, experiments in scientific management, which is mainly rest upon works of Frederick Winslow Taylor, who is a mechanical engineer, enabled usage of mass production in airplane industry. Improvement related to production line and efficiency (effective usage of which were practiced firstly by Ford Motor Company) increased the number of production in industries, also aviation industry. Militaries tended to give more attention to their air forces. People became more conscious about the usage of airplanes.

Turkish Aviation Before the Jet Age (1919-1950)

Atatürk having sight to flying aircrafts (N.D.).

Prominent Institutions and Figures In this era, there had been various contributions to Turkish aviation industry. Especially with establishment of the Republican administration, these contributions became more effective. Establishment of Turkish Aeronautical Association (Türk Tayyare Cemiyeti) would be a relevant example. In February 1925, TAA established by Pilot Şakir Hazım, Pilot Vecihi Hürkuş and Hasan İskender Bey, and with major contributions of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Even, in opening ceremony of TAA, Atatürk commenced his famous quote: “The future is in the skies” (Istikbal Göklerdedir) (Yalçın, 2012, p. 269). After the WWI, Germans were prohibited armament through the Treaty of Versailles. However, they wanted to maintain their involvement within the industry. With the help of Junkers Flugzeug- und Motorenwerke AG, Turkish Aeronautical Association established Kayseri Aircraft Factory in 1926 (Yalçın, 2013, p. 139). On the other hand, private entrepreneurs, such as Nuri Demirağ, established aircraft factories. Essentially, Nuri Demirağ interested in railway production industry and involved massive production in railway industry, even his surname was given by Atatürk to refer his contributions (Yalçın, 2009, p. 9). He established Beşiktaş Aircraft Facility, and in there, the first Turkish-made passenger airplane produced, in 1941. Its inaugural flight arranged in August 1941, from Istanbul to Divriği, where was the birthplace of Nuri Demirağ (Yalçın, 2009, p. 12).

Aims of TAA According to Osman Yalçın (2012, p. 270), main aims of TAA were firstly commented by Atatürk. We can list all of these like that:

  • Facilitation and development of aerospace industry,
  • Explanation of the importance of aviation in areas like military, economy, society and politics,
  • Development of military, civil and touristic aviation,
  • Preparation of required equipment and facility,
  • Education of personnel and,
  • Creation of flying Turkish youth.

Social Factors on Development of Aviation Industry As we commented above, after the WWI, international political spectrum helped facilitation of aviation industry in Turkey, especially from Germany. Massive economic development by state opened new era of production of motors, machines and of course, aircrafts. With the help of the efforts of TAA, aviation became more recognized by the society. With establishment of Turkish Airlines in 30s as a flag career of the Republic effected this era, in terms of economy and society. People, especially wealthy class, became user of civil aircrafts and therefore, new opportunities facilitated in transportation sector.

Aviation during World War Two (1939-1945)

Aviation in WWII patchwork. Clockwise from top: a Messerschmitt Bf 109; a Nakajima B5N; an Avro Lancaster; the Nagasaki atomic bomb; a North American P-51 Mustang; a Consolidated B-24 Liberator; a Heinkel He 111. Source: Wikipedia

World War Two, which had been happened between the 1939-1945, was the bloodiest war in the world. In this war, the science was used in a bloodiest way, by using nuclear bombs. These guns of mass destruction firstly used by the United States against Japan, which caused terrific consequences. On aviation side, there were some developments changes which changed the art of war.

Technology In these years, fighters and bombers were used conventionally. These fighter planes were durable than their ancestors, and more capable and well-armed to fight upon skies. To seize the air superiority, both major forces (Allied and Axis) produced fighters in vast amounts. The bombers, on the other hand, were used for mass destruction of cities. Germans used bombers intensively in operations in accordance with Blitzkrieg tactics, which was focused on rapid movement and high success on physiologic and psychologic attack (Limbach, 2016).

Ethics On ethical side, humanity witnessed with the worst consequences of usage of aircrafts. By bombing cities directly by carpet bombing, thousands of civilians were killed. We can see this in the occupation of the Netherlands. Germans established air bombing attack on the city of Rotterdam. Except several ones, majority of buildings (approx. 25000) were demolished and many of inhabitants became homeless (Kooij, 2000). By using bombers for nuclear attack, the world witnessed humiliation of human by humans. Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war; however, it left 225000 dead bodies as legacy (Yamazaki, 2007). These shows us humankind can use all fund of knowledge to eliminate their brothers and sisters in systematic and horrifying ways.

Effects on Society Inventions of mass production and assembly line generally effected all industries. Aviation industry took its portion from the cake. We can see this effect on German Aviation during World War Two. According to Daniel Uziel (2006), the main consequence of mass production was employment of unskilled labour force in the aviation factories, during the shortage of workers because of the war. This helped production in terms of quality and numbers, because machines and specific expression of jobs caused more efficiency and effectiveness. On the political and military side, the explorations in this era changed the art of war, Blitzkrieg tactic of Germans could be given as example.

Space Flight

The phenomenon of the space race has been around for Cold War, but has lost its meaning today. Source: Time

Technical difficulties and solutions Problem of acceleration and the gravity of the Earth is one of significant difficulties for spaceflight. Before scientific solutions was explored during early 20th century, there had been no tool to accelerate vehicles to escape gravity of the world. In the beginning of 1900s, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian mathematician, commented that there could be the way for spaceflight, by using rockets. His main work about this issue is an article, published in 1903 (Logsdon, 2018). This made him the first person who scientifically commented the usage of rockets for spaceflight. His works effected many Soviet and European scientists. In the United States, Robert Hutchings Goddard contributed significant works and patents about rocket technology and, he attempted several rocket tests, with his liquid oxygen-gasoline rocket, firstly fired in 1926 (Logsdon, 2018). However, the very first rocket in modern terms was invented by Nazi Germany, during the end of WW2. Their rocket war named V-2. This rocket has auto-pilot system for sustainable control in the air. United States and Soviet Union captured vast amount of these V-2 rockets and used them for scientific researches on rockets and space exploration programs (V-2 missile, 2018).

Effects of “Space Race” According to History.com, notable documentary channel in the world, the term “Space Race” is used for “The U.S. competition with the U.S.S.R. for technological dominance spurred the U.S. on to the first-ever landing on the moon.” (The Space Race, 2010) In the era of Cold War, major confronts involved in a competition to show thein political, economic and technological abilities and prove their superiority not only on the earth, but also on the space. With reference to the NASA, we could say that the Space race has many consequences: commercial applications, education and inspiration to youth, applications satellites, scientific benefits, and philosophical implications. (Dick, 2005) In her book, Marina Benjamin concludes that seeing the world from space affected the mankind by development of humanistic ideas and “our relationship to the natural world and our appreciation of the greater community of mankind.” (2005) Communication systems had witnessed rapid development after the first satellite missions. The art of war totally changed with the inventions about ICBM missiles. Commercial usage of satellites has been impacted the economic side of space industry. World changed fundamentally and rapidly.


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