Nieuport 16

MMDE: 1930

Current: 1916

When did the first air-to-air missiles appear?

Another "tech before it's time" has appeared, which some are pointing to as an MMDE because it seems it should have been much more widely known, and appears to suddenly have come from nowhere. 

This time it's air-to-air missiles, i.e. fired from one aircraft and aimed at another. Bearing in mind the first airplane was invented by the Wright brothers in 1902, it comes as quite a shock to many to discover the year the missiles first appeared was 1916.

They were called the Le Prieur rocket and were actually designed to be fired at observations balloons and airships, which were prevalent during WW1. Obviously unguided, they were fairly crude by today's standards being not much more than a cardboard tube filled with gunpowder and a sharp, knife-like projectile for penetrating the balloons/airships.

Dive down

The method of use was for the aircraft firing these weapons to fly down at a 45 degree angle to the target, then release them with an electrical switch. They were mainly incendiaries, because their targets were hot air balloons and airships filled with inflammable gas. These were mounted on the attacking aircraft's wings, so were an obvious fire hazard for the plane itself. They were actually designed and tested on cars firing at fixed targets on the ground as they drove past. The fastest car available at the time - a 120kph Piccard Pictet - had a section of the aircraft's wing attached to it, which in turn had the missile assemby fixed to it.

In practice, the weapon was sicessfull against observation balloons but never actually brought down a Zeppelin, although it did deter raids using them against the UK.

It says a great deal about human nature that only 14 years after man's first flight, he was using the invention for warfare. 

Facts from history which "appear suddenly" are sometimes classes as Mandela Effects this way when people, especially those in the field concerned, are totally unaware of them and feel certain they would already have been by their very nature.