Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Teachers' Notes

Resource created by Leeds Museums and Galleries

This resource provides  an overview of the history of British aviation during the First World War.

A Global View:

WW1: As the name suggests, the First World War (1914-1918) involved many countries across the globe. Initially, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in Eastern Europe for resisting its imperial control. The declaration prompted a domino effect as countries stepped in one after another to support their allies on each side. Eventually, this meant that countries such as Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy were at war with countries including Britain, France and Russia. As some of these had their own empires, the countries within the empires were made to fight too, supporting their rulers, or were attacked by their rulers’ enemies. For example, troops from India, Australia and New Zealand fought for Britain and the Indian army attacked German colonies in Africa. In 1917, the USA joined the war on Britain’s side. Consequently, huge portions of the world ended up entangled in the conflict.

Curriculum Links

  • KS2 Design and Technology - understand how key events and individuals in design and technology have helped shape the world
  • KS3 Design and Technology - identify and solve their own design problems and understand how to reformulate problems given to them
  • KS2 Geography - describe and understand key aspects of human geography
  • KS3 Geography - interpret aerial photographs; understand how human and physical processes interact to influence and change landscapes
  • KS2 History - study of an aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils' chronological knowledge beyond 1066
  • KS3 History - challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world 1901 to present day
  • KS4 History



Learning Objectives

  • Knowledge of the history and technical development of British aviation during the First World War.
  • Understanding of the significance and impact of aviation during the First World War in its historical context.
  • Skills to use a variety of sources and cross-curricular material within a historical investigation.


Discussion Ideas

  • Why do you think people wanted to be able to fly?
  • What features have birds evolved that help them to fly?
  • In what ways are the bodies of birds and the lightweight frames of early aeroplanes similar?
  • How did aeroplanes help both armies in WW1?
  • You will notice that the pilots and passengers had to sit in open cockpits in early planes. What problems might this have caused?
  • How do you think aircraft design changed to solve these problems?
  • What do you think were the most important innovations or improvements in aircraft design from 1914-1918?
  • How do you think the early pioneers of aviation would have felt, knowing that aeroplanes would eventually be used to kill people?


Activity Ideas

  • First World War Aviation Designer interactive
    You can use the interactive to:
    - Explore the design criteria behind three WW1 Blackburn Company aircraft
    - Complete three missions in which you can use your knowledge of the Blackburn aircraft
    - Discover the history of wartime aviation in Leeds through museum collections
    (For best results use the latest version of your web browser to access the interactive, as it may not be compatible with some older browsers).

    Design Technology (extension activity for the interactive):
    - Brainstorm a list of the most important aspects of aircraft design
    - Evaluate the pros and cons of the three aircraft designs used in the interactive and suggest ways to improve on them.
    - Pupils can then design and create their own WW1 aeroplane, considering what kinds of shapes can be built using a wooden frame and paper skeleton.
  • Geography - Mapping:
    Consult real trench maps: pupils can examine original high resolution images of trench maps on the McMaster University website (see link below) or compare the maps with current Google maps on the National Library of Scotland website (see NLS link below).
    While doing so, they can consider the following things:
    - Examine the symbols used
    - Look at how the Front Lines alter on some of the maps
    - Think about the scales used on different maps created at different dates
    - Consider strategic targets, such as factories, reservoirs, roads, bridges. Why might the army be interested in bombing them?

    Pupils could also look at a map of their nearest city and investigate which areas might have been targets for bombing raids. Think about what sort of places anti-aircraft guns could be positioned to shoot down enemy aircraft? 

    Create your own trench map from aerial photos:
    Create a map using original First World War aerial photographs, (see those within the Imperial War Museum collections online - links below).

    Pupils can then use tracing paper or draw directly on to the images, focusing on locating boundaries and key landmarks, creating a key showing the symbols that represent these. Then, compare these images with Satnav images of the same locations.

    Navigate a trench map:
    Using your trench map alongside a real map of the same location, use a compass to plot a flight from one side of the trenches to the other and back.
  • History - Research:

    WW1 pilots: 
    Find out more about the story of a British or German First World War pilot, such as W. Rowland Ding, or Manfred von Richthofen, known as the 'Red Baron'. 

    Events in WW1 aviation:
    Research one of the following events involving aviation during the First World War:
    - German air raids on Britain
    - Use of aircraft by the British at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle
    Write two different versions of a newspaper report about the event: one to be published in wartime, with key details censored and another to be published after the war, which is uncensored.

    Create a timeline: 
    Download a Word document worksheet of our aviation timeline. Ask pupils to research post-1919 aviation milestones and extend the timeline with notable innovations, taking us to supersonic flight and remote-controlled drones.