Described on the box cover as "TSR's Classic Role-Playing Game of World War I Air Combat", Dawn Patrol consists of rudimentary role-playing rules grafted on to the board wargame Fight in the Skies (FITS).
The FITS game system had a long history prior to its appearance in Dawn Patrol. FITS was originally independently published by designer Mike Carr starting in 1966, and later picked up by Guidon Games.
TSR published the fifth edition of the game in 1976, at which time it was announced in The Strategic Review that FITS was the first game to be published by the newly formed TSR game division. TSR released a sixth edition of the game in 1979, followed in 1982 by Dawn Patrol.
As was the case with other TSR releases of the time, Dawn Patrol was a very slick production, representing the first time that FITS was sold with full-color components, namely the counters and an illustrated mapsheet. The conversion of FITS to a role playing game was a de minimis effort -- a four page folder of role playing suggestions was added (many of which were undoubtedly already being used by long time fans of the game who had been playing ongoing campaigns for years).
[Information obtained via personal research and the FITS review posted on BGG at http://boardgame.geekdo.com/thread/13654]
From the back of the box:
"This is it! Researched and play-tested for over 10 years! DAWN PATROL aerial combat game was inspired by historical encounters that occurred during the great World War I dogfight era. Fly one step beyond the popular FIGHT IN THE SKIES game and soar to new heights of role playing. Become part of a legendary team of flying aces, wingmen and combat heroes. YOU are a vital element of the DAWN PATROL game."
"Any number can play. There are an infinite number of game situations, or if you choose, there's an assortment of ready-made scenarios for up to 12 players!"
"Game includes: Rulebook, playing-aid charts, full-color gameboard, specifications for individual aircraft capabilities, dice, and over 100 colorful die-cut aircraft counters."