As was the case with most of the aircraft featured during World War 1 (1914-1918), the French Caudron G.3 was a further evolution of an existing design - the G.2 - furthered along the lines of both innovation and battlefield necessity. At its core, the aircraft was a traditional biplane with its engine mounted at front and seating for one just aft. It was used primarily in the reconnaissance role serving warplanners and ground commanders with relatively up-to-date information on enemy positions and movements while also supporting artillery-spotting and the like. The G.3 first flew in prototype form prior to the war in late-1913 and was introduced in time for combat during 1914. It went on to stock various air services beyond that of the French including the United States, Poland, and Finland.
Outwardly, the G.3 appeared a largely awkward design due to its use of a stubby, short, slab-sided centralized nacelle housing engine, fuel stores, and pilot. The nacelle sat between the upper and lower wing assemblies in the biplane arrangement with the upper wing assembly noticeably wider in span than that of the lower - this quality termed "sesquiplane", the idea being that drag between the wings was lessened during flight. Early versions of the aircraft relied on basic "wing warping" for control until ailerons were added in later production models that followed. The engine at front drove a two-bladed wooden propeller in a "puller" arrangement. No fixed, forward-firing machine guns - and hence no interrupter gear - were fitted to these early aircraft to allow for firing through the spinning propeller blades. The aircraft featured twin tailbooms which were left in their basic skeletal framework (uncovered) with twin, shark-fin-like rudders featured along with a wide-spanning horizontal plane. The undercarriage was fixed and sported two main, twin-wheeled landing gear legs under the forward mass of the aircraft. A network of struts was seen across the undercarriage for support while the wing elements were joined by parallel struts and wiring.
The definitive mark of the G.3 line became the G.3 A.2 which powered by a single French Le Rhone C series rotary engine of 80 horsepower output. Performance included a maximum speed of 68 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 14,100 feet. Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) reached 1,580lbs. This was followed by the two-seat, dual-control G.3 D.2 which was used in training new generations of airmen - many tasting flight for the first time in their lives. The G.3 E.2 designation marked basic single-seat trainer forms and ground-running (taxiing) training was done through the specially-modified, stripped G.3 R.1 model. The G.3 L.2 was a late-model addition by Caudron which installed the Anzani 10 series radial piston engine of 100 horsepower to maximize performance in the on-going war.
While generally unarmed, some G.3 aircraft carried a machine gun or pilots flew with a personal service rifle in hand for defense. The bomb-dropping capability of the aircraft was more or less based on the pilot's own skill - small-diameter bombs simply dropped by hand over the side of the aircraft onto a target area - typically at dangerously low altitudes that opened the aircraft up to ground-based fire.
There proved no urgency in procuring the new French aircraft until war broke out in Europe during the summer of 1914. The G.3 was then ordered in number with Caudron supplying as many as 1,423 aircraft by war's end. Other local French factories pushed the complete French total to about 2,450 aircraft and additional overseas production emerged (under license) in both Britain and Italy which added 233 and 166 respectively. Escadrille C.11 of the French Air Service became the first recipient of the type which proved a very reliable, robust airframe for the reconnaissance role early in the war. Eventually some 38 French squadrons formed as users of this oft-forgotten aircraft. However, the pace at which technology advanced in the coming war years rendered the G.3 cannon fodder to the new generation of interceptors, fighting scouts, and ground-based artillery. As such, the G.3 was removed from frontline work from the middle of 1916 onwards and relegated to the training role for the rest of the war. It saw extended service in foreign militaries thereafter, the last known models flying into the early-to-mid 1920s.
Interestingly, the Germans thought enough of the French G.3 series to copy the design under the LD.3 and LD.4 (LD = "Land Doppeldecker") designations - these manufactured by Gotha. Further development by Caudron led to the G.4 line detailed elsewhere on this site. The G.4 appeared in 1915 and some 1,421 examples followed in service with France, Belgium, the United States, and others.