History of Romanian aeronautics merges trends and contributions that place at the top scientific and technical thinking of the Romanian people in a major branch of human civilization even in the very prime of this domain. The creative genius of the Romanians has been proved through essential achievements in science and art of flying, or aeronautical frameworks, such as designing and building a range of rockets – including multi-stage, jet propelled or vertical flight, firing through propeller, designing delta-wing aircraft or unconventional flying vehicles. Famous inventors such as Traian Vuia, Grigore Briscu, Henri Coanda, George Arion, Tache Brumarescu, Hermann Oberth, Nicolae Vaideanu, Vasile Dimitrescu and many others succeeded due to their ingenious spirit to achieve remarkable accomplishments.
From 1906 to 1915, Romanian scientists found the solution for mechanical flight (Traian Vuia), created jet-plane (Henri Coanda), designed and built the first aircraft vertically taking off in the world which flew on 27th May 1911 (Tache Brumarescu), and Professor Doctor Vasile Dimitrescu developed two projects of invisible aircraft.
Romanian military aviation was born in 1910 as a result of the cooperation between civil society and Ministry of War. The first military aircraft, fully conceived and built in Romania, was designed by Aurel Vlaicu and produced by Army Arsenal and flew on 17 June 1910. Thus, engineer Aurel Vlaicu, who graduated the Bavarian Royal Polytechnic College in Munich, became the first pilot of the Romanian Armed Forces. On 27th September 1910, while the Romanian army carried out maneuvers within the Southern territory, he performed a reconnaissance flight from Slatina to Piatra Olt delivering to Prince Ferdinand, the throne heir, a document from the Romanian General Staff. Romania became therefore the second nation (France was the first) to use a plane in military operations.
Military pilots were trained at Aeronautical Center in Chitila (near Bucharest), established on 20th November 1909 by Mihail Cerchez based on an Act of Establishment no. 2931 / 1909 registered by the Courthouse of Ilfov County. The first military pilots, second lieutenants (engineers) Stefan Protopopescu and Gheorghe Negrescu were licensed here, in Chitila, in July 1911. They learned piloting techniques flying Farman III airplanes, model 1909 built under licence at the workshops in Chitila. Later on, the two pilots studied at the College for Mechanical and Aeronautical Constructions in Paris becoming the first aviation military engineers in the armed forces. During the same period, second lieutenants Radu Irimescu and Simion Chiscaneanu attended Polytechnic School in Charlottemburg - Berlin becoming also mechanical engineers.
Three civil flying schools were established in 1911 and 1912 at Chitila, Cotroceni and Baneasa-Bucharest which trained also military pilots; a Royal Decree (No. 1953) issued on 27th March / 8th April 1912 authorized the Ministry of War to set up the Military Pilotage School at Cotroceni – Bucharest, the fourth flying school in Romania. Insignia of military pilot was introduced too. Until 1913, twenty-one military pilots were trained and licensed in civil and military schools while other fifteen took out their licenses in France. Young Lieutenant, Prince George Valentin Bibescu, owner of the 20th license issued by Aero-club of France, performed the first flight on an international route, i.e. from Bucharest to Ruse / Bulgaria via Giurgiu, in September 1910.
The Romanian Military Aviation operating ten local-made airplanes ‘A.Vlaicu no.1’, Farman III, manufactured under license at Chitila, Neuport, Morane-Saulnier and Bleriot, participated in military maneuvers conducted in 1911 and 1912 flying over long (for that time) distances of 150-180 km and connecting Bucharest with various locations such as Turnu Severin, Constantza, Iassi, Roman, etc.
Romanian Parliament adopted the first act providing organizational structure of military aeronautics ratified by King Carol I through Royal Decree no. 3199 / 30th April 1913. Thus the Military Aeronautics Service was set up including two sections: aviation and aerostation. Standing cadre of airmen created included pilots, technical personnel and air observers. Any junior ranks could join this nucleus after graduating a specialized school. According to regulations, a military pilot had to fly 120 hours a year.
Year 1913 meant a significant increase in Romanian military aviation inventory including 34 aircraft; 16 of them were Bristol – Coanda. This type was designed by Romanian engineer Henri Coanda who had been working as chief engineer and director of Bristol Factory, England since 1912.
Events that took place in the Balkans in that summer of 1913 caused Romanian army participation in the second Balkan War. During the WW I, nineteen Romanian airplanes fought on the Bulgarian battlefront mainly accomplishing reconnaissance missions. Romanian pilots flew over Sofia dropping flyers in the very Royal Palace yard. Officers such as Nicolae Capsa, Ioan H. Arion, Mircea Zorileanu, Constantin Fotescu or Prince George Valentin Bibescu performed reconnaissance flights to over 200 km and 2200-2500 m altitude.
When the World War I broke out, Romania declared its neutrality. No matter the country was ruled by a king of German origin, the political class tended to an alliance with Antanta in order to get back the Romanian provinces under Austro-Hungarian occupation and to unify Great Romania. From 1914 to 1916 military aviation went on with equipping and training to get ready for war. Through establishment of the Romanian Aviation Corps based on Minister Decision no.305 from 10/23 August 1915, aviation became an autonomous branch of the armed forces not subordinated to Directorate of Engineering as it had been.
In 1916 and 1917, Romania acquired from France and Great Britain 322 fighters Nieuport models 11, 12, 17, 19, 21, 23 and 28; reconnaissance and light bombing Farman model 40 and 46; Sopwith Strutter; Caudron G.4 for forward reconnaissance and bombing two-engine airplanes; and Breguet-Michelin bombing planes. Twelve pieces of this last model were equipped with Hotchkiss 37-mm canons and two Nieuport-11 squadrons had machine guns and also ‘La Prieur’ rockets to combat captive balloons. When Romania entered the war against Austro-Hungaria (14/27-15/28 August 1916), Romanian Aviation Corps had 44 airplanes operated by 97 pilots, and 84 air observers. Each of the fourth Romanian armies received an air group. During the early campaign, airmen accomplished reconnaissance and bombing missions in Transilvania, along the north-western and southern frontlines. On 16th September 1916, the aircrew of a F.40, including Lieutenant Panait Colet – pilot, and Sergeant Ioan Gruia – observer, shot down the first German airplane.
The large extent of the Romanian frontline (over 1000 km) made the General Headquarters request France to send a military mission, which arrived in October 1916. Among allied officers there were also volunteer airmen who immediately joined the Romanian squadrons in mixed teams.
Early operations conducted from August to December 1916 brought no victory for Romanian troops but for German, Austrian, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Turkish forces. However, aviation proved its utility performing hundreds of reconnaissance and bombing missions. Romanian aeronautics gained 28 victories (23 German and Austro-Hungarian airplanes were shot down by antiaircraft artillery and 5 – by aircrews).
In 1917, January the 1st marked an important turn for Romanian aviation: it was subject of a reorganization process. A Directorate for Aeronautics was established as part of the General Headquarters under Lieutenant Colonel De Vergnette Delamotte command. Major Constantin Fotescu became chief of aviation.
In winter and spring of 1917, Romanian airmen several times took pictures of the front area within Namoloasa (Galatzi), Marasesti, Marasti and Oituz covering a distance of about 180-200 km. This area was to become the scene of heavy fighting later in that summer. In July 1917, restructured military aviation included three groups which meant 150 airplanes grouped first in 12 and then in 14 squadrons. Romanian airmen made a significant contribution to the outcome of great battles in August and September 1917. They went on fighting until 1919 and gained 83 victories in the air (other 50 enemy airplanes were shot down by antiaircraft artillery). Second Lieutenant Dumitru Badulescu became indisputable champion with his eight air victories (five of them were certified by photographs).
From 1916 to 1919, Romanian aircrews flew thousands of missions totalizing over 11 000 flight hours; they fought over 750 air fights and launched about 100 tones of bombs over enemy frontlines. There were eight airmen killed or shot down by enemy antiaircraft artillery. A number of eleven pilots and observers were rewarded with the highest Romanian military decoration – Order ‘Mihai Viteazul’ 3rd class.