By Jim Zub March 14, 2012
Although it’s cartoony and a bit silly, the legacy of fighter pilots in World War I is fascinating stuff. Sky Kid’s flying roots offer a wealth of dramatic and exciting adventure to draw upon for stories.
In this era where planes finally came into their own, pilots were incredibly popular celebrities and cavaliers; daredevils of the air risking their lives in relatively flimsy flying machines, defying gravity and launching themselves into the sky for reconnaissance missions or bombing runs. Pilot names were synonymous with bravery and courage. It would create a lot of resentment within other branches of the military, but was a useful marketing tool for recruitment and raising public moral overall during wartime. Whether or not the planes were as effective as ground troops (they weren’t), they were a symbol of new technology and superiority so the public adored what they represented.
For all the bravado involved with being a pilot, there was a great deal of risk that came with it. Flying technology was in its infancy and the machines themselves were not as sturdy or streamlined as you might expect. Operating a biplane took an incredibly amount of skill and some muscle too. These planes weren’t equipped with sensory equipment or power steering. Without the complex equipment that modern pilots use now, World War I-era pilots had to rely far more on what they were seeing (through their fogged and misty goggles) and what they felt instead of accurate gauges.
Biplanes have two wings, one placed directly above the other. Since both sets of wings are cutting the air and providing lift, its wingspan can be shorter than on a single wing plane set up. In turn, the bi-plane can cut tighter corners and have greater overall maneuverability. The downside of those extra stacked wings is that it can create extra drag as the area between the wings buffets air between them. It’s harder for the plane to get initial lift from the ground and in bad weather it can be far more difficult to control.
Our Sky Kid story won’t be delving into the specifics of bi-plane piloting with a great degree of accuracy, but I do want some of those broader storytelling brushstrokes to feel right. Max and Red are celebrities on their base and the missions they’re chosen for are special and risky because they’re part of a very small crew of people able to do what they do. Their planes are amazing machines that are pushing the edge of technology in that era and each pilot has to use a combination of skill and instinct to fly their way to victory. Even when I’m simplifying these overall concepts I think it’s important to appreciate the historical source material and see what aspects shine through. I don’t expect anyone to look at Sky Kid’s air combat as “realistic” but if readers can tell that there’s a genuine love for that era of flight mixed in to what Chamba and I are doing, then I think we’ll have done our job well.