This post is brought to you by TFB field correspondents on the hunt for interesting firearms news and history around the world. And by correspondents, I mean my Mom and Dad traveling through Dayton, Ohio where they stopped at the U.S. Air Force National Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB. There they came across this exhibit on Lt. Jacob E. Fickel who fired the first shot from an airplane in New York in 1910.
Although he did use a M1903 Springfield, the gun pictured above is not the actual rifle shot by Fickel. The account stated that he fired his rifle at a 3’x5′ target from a distance of 100 feet, but does not clarify whether or not he actually HIT his target. The following year he put six shots through a dinner plate at a distance of 200 yards, so I’m guessing he was an expert marksman.
Fickel is credited with firing the first recorded gunshot ever from an airplane on August 20, 1910. From his passenger seat he fired a rifle twice at a target from an altitude of 100 feet with Glenn H. Curtiss flying the airplane. It was done at Sheepshead Bay Race Track near New York City. This proved that a gun could be fired from an airplane without the plane breaking up into pieces due to the gun’s recoil.
He repeated the feat at an air show in the summer of 1911 at Nassau Boulevard airfield on Long Island with Arnold at the controls. Competing against a team of Britons, Thomas Sopwith and Malcolm Campbell, the Americans won easily when Fickel displayed a skill that enabled him to put six bullets through a dinner plate from an aircraft flying 200 feet (61 m) off the ground.
Fickel became the first aerial gunner in America. These experiments led to low recoil machine guns. Soon thereafter machine guns were added to planes for air-to-ground attack or air-to-air fighting. The first airplane machine guns were patented by Samuel Neal McClean. He sold his rights to the Automatic Arms Company in late 1910. Issac N. Lewis working for the company later improved the technology on this airplane machine gun system.
The first use of an airplane machine gun in combat was in August 1914 with the first recorded airplane shot down in air-to-air fighting in October of that year. By 1915 air combat was an integral part of World War I fighting.