First-hand accounts of bravery and adventure from the individuals who embraced the exciting -- and dangerous -- new world of flying at the start of the First World War. Few are aware of the risks that the pioneering airmen of the First World War took. On a Wing and a Prayer is a narrative history that conveys the perils of those early days, the thrills of learning to fly, and the horrors of war in the air at a time when pilots carried little defensive armament and no parachutes. The men who joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1914 were the original heroes of flying, treading into unknown territory, and paving the way for later aerial combat. They became icons for the soldiers in the trenches, and a stark contrast to the hundreds on the ground fighting faceless hundreds as men fought aircraft to aircraft and man to man -- for the first time the air became a battlefield of its own. In 1914 aircraft were a questionable technology, used for only basic reconnaissance. But by 1918, hastened by the terrible war, aircraft were understood to be the future of modern warfare. The war changed flying forever.
The Wright brothers' achievements of a mere 10 years earlier and Bleriot's crossing of the Channel just a few years before the war seemed a distant memory as aircraft became killing machines -- the war becoming the ancestor of the fearsome air wars of later years. The stories are presented to the reader in a frank and open way, revealing the feelings of the men who defended the trenches from above and witnessed the war from a completely different perspective. The adventures of these men are almost totally unknown, and this book will tell their story, in their own words, for the first time. The tale of men who rewrote the rules of military engagement and changed the course of modern history as a result.
Joshua Levine is a playwright, writer for television and producer, and the author of Forgotten Voices of the Blitz and the Battle for Britain, researcher for Max Arthur on Forgotten Voices -- Great War and Second World War, and Lost Voices of the Edwardians, and The Last Post .