Flagler Museum spotlights World War I aviators


In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, the Flagler Museum will present an exhibition honoring the daredevil pilots who risked everything at the dawn of aviation.

“Knights of the Air: Aviator Heroes of World War I” will be on exhibit from Oct. 17 to Dec. 31. The exhibition will showcase more than one hundred works of art, artifacts, photographs and printed materials related to these brave men and their legacies.

While much is known about the history of the Great War, those fighting in the trenches often remained nameless, their stories not widely told at the time. Wartime aviators, however, quickly became popular heroes.

As a result of great interest in the new field of aviation, and the sheer danger their missions posed, written accounts and photographs of the pilots were widely featured in newspapers and magazines, and many published their own dramatic personal accounts.

“Knights of the Air” celebrates the daring risk takers who propelled the world of aviation forward, solidifying the image of the aviator as a heroic symbol and leaving a lasting legacy.

When World War I began on June 28, 1914, aviation was still in its infancy. It soon became clear, however, that air reconnaissance and weaponry could be of great use, and the search for aviators began in earnest.

Recruitment posters promised a life of action, adventure and opportunity, and the military air services of France, England and Germany had little difficulty obtaining pilots.

Soon American aviators joined the Allied efforts. In a letter to his mother in 1917, 1st Lt. Jack Morris Wright described the potential for glory that lured men to this dangerous work: “A month ago I was a truck-driver, dreaming a little and boring myself considerably. A month from now I shall be an aviator, concentrating at continuous work one day, and snobbishly, but oh, how joyously, receiving the invisible laurels of thousands of friends – friends and admirers everywhere I go.”

The exhibition will feature the work of artists who served as aviators for the war effort, including American Clayton Knight, who flew for the United States Army Signal Corps.

Knight created dramatic scenes of war from a pilot’s perspective, such as drawing straws for a mission, planes strafing the trenches below and aerial views of the first aircraft carriers.

Admission is $18 for adults, $10 for youth ages 13-17, $3 for children ages 6-12, and free for children under six.

The Flagler Museum is at 1 Whitehall Way in Palm Beach.

For more information on the exhibit or Flagler Museum, go online to flaglermuseum.us.

Pictured above: The original members of the famous First Yale Unit, training in West Palm Beach in 1917. The Yale Unit served as the Navy’s Aerial Coast Patrol No. 1. NNAM.1998.367.089, Erl Clinton Barker Gould Photograph Album, National Naval Aviation Museum library collection.

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