SteveMarsdin, on 04 January 2012 - 10:02 AM, said:
1. I have limited knowledge of the war in the air, drawing most of my comments from what I have read on the "Battle of the Frontiers". I do know that (and in confirming what Jack said) the French had more aircraft "on the books" than the Germans but even then only one or two of their aircraft flew each day and, particularly with 4th Army, it was quite a hotch-potch of types. It couldn't be considered "air-superiority" ! The aerial arm was in its infancy and wasn't fully developed for reconnaissance. Pégoud even brought his own Bleriot to fly. I do not know which airfields/airstrips Lanrezac's aircraft flew from or how many aircraft he had, I can only surmise that he would have had around the same number as 3rd and 4th Armies, particularly given that his was originally the largest army.
The main type available was the Bleriot monoplane, particularly the XI. Bleriots had been chosen in 1910 as the first standard type for French military aviation and had since established a track record with the Italians in Libya, with the Serbs in the Balkan Wars and to a limited extent with the French in Morocco and Algeria. It had the best range from the aircraft available to the French and was deemed reliable (one had recently been used in the first trans North Sea flight). However to achieve the necessary range it needed to be flown without an observer. The broad wings of the Bleriot posed a problem for ground observation. The observer sitting just behind the leading edge had a good view forward and downwards but the pilot positioned just ahead of the trailing edge had his view restricted by the wings. He did have a limited view forward and almost directly down through a cut out on either side but this was mainly to aid landing. His main view was downward and sideways slightly to the rear which meant that when anything worth observing came into view he was already passing it at about 60mph. The other aircraft with the necessary reliability and range was the Breguet Tractor Biplane (known in British service as 'the tin whistle'). However to get the necessary range this would also have to be flown as a single seater. Whilst the pilot's view was not as restricted as with the Bleriot it was not good. Moreover the Breguet was both slow and tiring to fly and with a cruising speed of under 50 mph long range recce flights would be well over 4 hours long. The reason for them being tiring was that the aircraft had to be 'flown' the entire time, any relaxation by the pilot would result in loosing control. This made it effectively impossible for him to make notes or sketches of what he saw.
Other French aircraft such as the Maurice Farman MF 07 (Shorthorn) whilst reliable, easier to fly and offering good visibility lacked the range and were better suited for tactical battlefield observation. Some like the Deperdussin TT were deemed too fragile and unreliable.
French airships were only used very briefly for recce as one was shot down by French troops (on the assumption that any airship must be a Zeppelin).
Ultimately the answer must be that the French simply did not have the requisite assets for effective strategic reconnaissance,.