How Much Do You Know About Aerial Warfare?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Not long after humankind invented the airplane, we invented aerial warfare. How much do you know about this modern form of combat?

Watch the skies! Not very long after the airplane was invented, humans began to think of ways to use it in wartime. Actually, let's back up. Aerial warfare precedes the airplane, as balloons and dirigibles (airships that preceded the fixed-wing aircraft) were used in wars in the 19th century and before. Even drones are much older than you might think, with unmanned "flying bombs" playing a part in WWI.

Yup, air combat has a crazy history, from pilots shooting at each other with handguns and dropping grenades from altitude, to the Russian pilot who died ramming an enemy aircraft, through the race to create a fighter craft that would be invisible to radar -- a project that seemed to defy the laws of physics. But it's also a very serious subject. In the 21st century, "air supremacy" is seen as essential to military power. No nation with a modern military is without an air force.

Are you an expert on air combat? For example, do you know what the Enola Gay is famous for? Or which fighter Jiro Horikoshi innovated? Or the better-known nickname of Manfred von Richthofen? (We bet you know THAT one, at least!) We've created a 35-question quiz spanning the history of aerial warfare, so you can put your chops to the test. Strap in -- there's no beverage service on *this* flight!

When a nation has its own aerial-warfare branch of the military, independent of an army or navy, it is usually called a/an ______.

"Air force" is the usual word in English, with similar terms in other languages. Canada has its Royal Canadian Air Force, and Australia the Royal Australian Air Force.

Which of these wars was the first to have air combat?

This isn't including the Italo-Turkish war a few years earlier. In that conflict, Italian pilots dropped grenades from planes. However, WWI was the first war to substantially use aircraft.

A one-on-one fight in the air is called a/an ________.

Dogfights involved complicated maneuvering, often with pilots jockeying to get behind the other aircraft. That's an ideal position from which to fire.

Which of these is NOT a maneuever in dogfighting?

The comically-named "flunge" comes from a much older form of fighting: fencing. It's short for "flying lunge."

The Sopwith _______ was an iconic WWI plane.

Where, you might ask, did the name come from? The plane had a protective metal shield over the guns to keep them from freezing in cold temperatures, which made a "hump."

Which nation made the Sopwith Camel?

The Sopwith Camel was British-made, a single-seat biplane with machine guns. Its predecessor was called the Sopwith Pup.

By what name was WWI ace Manfred von Richthofen better known?

The Red Baron is one of the best-known military aviators in history. He racked up 80 victories in combat during World War I. Even people not interested in military history know him, because of many "Peanuts" cartoons in which Snoopy imagines being a fighter ace hunting "The Red Baron."

The RAF is the air force of which nation?

The "R" is for "Royal," of course. Many well-known Brits have served in the RAF, including beloved veterinarian-author, James Herriot.

In what decade did the US Air Force break away from the Army?

This happened in 1947, not long after World War II ended. The Air Force's Chief of Staff is part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who advise the president on military matters.

True or false: Do warplanes ever carry nuclear weapons?

The most famous example of this is the plane that bombed Hiroshima. But in the Cold War, it was common for fighter planes to carry nuclear arms, and it still happens today.

A humanitarian mission, to evacuate people or deliver supplies, is called an ______.

A famous example of this was Operation Babylift in the Vietnam War. More than 10,000 orphans were flown out of Saigon after the city's fall, and adopted by people in the West.

The Spitfire was a craft used by England in which war?

Like the Sopwiths in World War I, the Spitfire was considered the primary British fighter plane in World War II, despite the slightly larger number of Hawker Hurricanes. Fun fact: A little more than 50 Spitfires are still capable of getting into the air.

What was the Enola Gay famous for?

The United States remains the only nation to have used a nuclear weapon in wartime, a fact on which American history books do not dwell. The Enola Gay was the bomber that flew the Hiroshima mission ​and was a weather reconnaissance plane in the second mission, which bombed Nagasaki.

For whom was the Enola Gay named?

The pilot was an Army colonel, Paul Tibbets. He chose the plane for his crew and mission while it was still on the assembly line, and named it for his mother.

By what name was the Mitsubishi A6M plane, flown in WWII, better known?

"Zeroes" were the primary fighter aircraft produced by Japan during WWII, and were flown in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hayao Miyazaki's last film, "The Wind Rises," is about Jiro Horikoshi, the chief designer behind the Zero.

About how many miles was the range of the Japanese Zero?

The Zero was able to achieve such a range because it was very lightweight. Tradeoffs included having no armor protection for the pilot and no self-sealing fuel tank, which made the Zero dangerous to fly.

How many Americans were killed in the air attack on Pearl Harbor?

The official US death toll was 2,403. In addition, more than 1,000 were injured when Japanese warplanes bombed the fleet at Pearl Harbor, sinking four battleships and damaging the remaining four.

Bombing a target from a steep angle of descent is called _______ bombing.

Dive bombers descend at an angle from 45 degrees to, at the maximum, 80 degrees. Needless to say, this requires an airplane made well enough to withstand the force of pulling up afterward, and a pilot with strong nerves.

What is the reason behind dive bombing?

When the plane is descending steeply, the bomb released will follow that nearly-vertical path. If a bomb is dropped from a plane flying level, it is harder to predict the effects of forward velocity, drag and wind on the bomb.

By what slang term is anti-aircraft fire known?

The first is a British radio term for "AA" (or anti-aircraft). The second is short for the German "flugabwehrkanone," or "air defense cannon." You most commonly hear "flak" nowadays, and it's entered public use to mean any kind of resistance. ("I took flak for that decision.")

In 1914, Russian fighter pilot Pyotr Nesterov brought down a plane using what tactic?

Nesterov is not believed to have been suicidal. Rather, he seems to have intended to damage the enemy Albatros (an Austrian plane) while sustaining survivable damage. It didn't work for him, but other Russian pilots used his technique later and survived.

What is the nickname for Universal Coordinated Time, the time that military pilots use?

"Z" is the letter assigned to Greenwich Mean Time, the starting point for the world's time zones. Under the NATO alphabet, this is "Zulu." Pilots use Zulu time wherever they are on the globe, to prevent confusion.

True or false: Does the US Air Force deploy helicopters?

Sikorsky is the main manufacturer of combat helicopters in the U.S. All branches of the military use them. For example, a helicopter was used to transport the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden.

What is the name for a mission flown to gain information about enemy territory?

"Reconnaissance" is taken from the French word meaning "to known or be familiar with." The term is often shortened to "recon."

What is the common term for an "air exclusion zone"?

A "No-Fly Zone" is a demilitarized zone in airspace. Neither side in a war, or ongoing hostilities, is allowed to patrol it.

Are "no-fly zones" strictly a military issue?

A no-fly zone was set up over the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The security of the athletes and international visitors was at stake, since the Games are a common target for terrorism.

Which of these was a Soviet aircraft?

"MiG" is short for Mikoyan-Gurevich, the Soviet-era manufacturer. MiGs flew Soviet airspace and fought Soviet battles from the 1940s to the 1980s (one is prominently featured in the movie, "Top Gun").

A plane designed to have minimum detectability by radar is called a _____ craft.

Stealth aircraft usually look as though they were designed for maximum aerodynamics, as the body is very flat. They are not completely impervious to radar -- no aircraft is -- but designs continue to improve, decreasingly their detectability.

Which company created the first stealth fighter?

The creation of the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk was a super-secret project for many years, as well as a triumph of physics. The geometric plates of its body were designed to scatter electromagnetic waves, making it far less vulnerable to radar.

Who made the B-2 Spirit Bomber?

Northrop-Grumman is the world's fifth-largest defense contractor. It rolled out the B-2 Spirit in 1997, though the development took much longer.

The Luftwaffe was the aerial military wing of which nation?

You're probably most familiar with the term "Luftwaffe" from books and films about WWII. It wasn't a very long-lived name. Germany developed the Luftwaffe in secret after its previous air division was disbanded after WWI, as part of the terms of peace. Then it was dissolved, for the same reason, after Germany lost WWII.

Does a missile need to impact its target to do damage?

When the Soviets shot down a civilian plane, Korean Air 007, the missile actually detonated behind the 747 (as it was designed to). Contrary to what many people likely believed, the 747 was not instantly destroyed, but was crippled and then crashed.

What type of plane was Gary Powers flying when he was shot down over the USSR?

Powers was shot down as part of a spy mission, flying his U-2 at high altitude and photographing Soviet military installations. The incident was embarrassing to the United States, but Powers survived, and was later released from a Soviet prison as part of a prisoner exchange.

Who was the first woman to fly a combat mission in WWI?

Marvingt was an alpinist, skier, surgical nurse, journalist, pilot and all-around adrenalin junkie. She flew bomber missions over Germany in WWI, and a longtime interest of hers was the creation of an air ambulance service.

What is "wing loading"?

"Wing loading" is a noun, not a verb. It's essential to know this ratio to know the fighting capabilities of the airplane.

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