#Podcast – The Apollo Program in Global Politics: An Interview with Dr Teasel Muir-Harmony

#Podcast – The Apollo Program in Global Politics: An Interview with Dr Teasel Muir-Harmony

Editorial Note: Led by our Editor Dr Mike Hankins, From Balloons to Drones produces a monthly podcast that provides an outlet for the presentation and evaluation of air power scholarship, the exploration of historical topics and ideas, and provides a way to reach out to both new scholars and the general public. You can find our Soundcloud channel here. You can also find our podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

The Apollo program, including the moon landing, is one of the most famous events in world history, and one of the most inspirational. Dr Teasel Muir-Harmony, the Curator of the Apollo collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, joins us to re-evaluate Apollo and look at its political dimensions across the world. 

51JIH6R3f8L

Dr Teasel Muir-Harmony is a historian of science and technology and Curator of the Apollo Spacecraft Collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Before coming to the Smithsonian Institution, she earned a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and held positions at the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics and the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum. Her most recent book is Operation Moonglow: A Political History of Project Apollo (2020).

Header image: The Apollo 15 Service Module as viewed from the Apollo Lunar Module, 2 August 1971. (Source: Wikimedia)

 

#NavalAir22 #BookReview – TOPGUN – The Legacy: The Complete History of TOPGUN and Its Impact on Tactical Aviation

#NavalAir22 #BookReview – TOPGUN – The Legacy: The Complete History of TOPGUN and Its Impact on Tactical Aviation

Editorial note: During 2022, From Balloons to Droneswill be running a series of articles, including book reviews and podcasts, that focus on the development and use of air power in the naval and maritime spheres of operations. In this book review, Dr Michael Hankins reviews Brad Elward’s recent history of the US Navy Fighter Weapons School, which was created during the Vietnam War to help improve fighter capabilities within the Navy.

The call for submissions for our Naval and Maritime Air Power Revisited series can be found here.

Brad Elward, TOPGUN – The Legacy: The Complete History of TOPGUN and Its Impact on Tactical Aviation. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military, 2021. Notes. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Hbk. 688 pp.

Reviewed by Dr Michael W. Hankins

topgun

The United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as TOPGUN, is one of the most popular aspects of the history of US military aviation. The 1986 eponymous film about the program launched the school into the public consciousness, and the topic has remained popular enough to prompt a much-anticipated sequel set to release in 2022. It is somewhat surprising then that there has yet to be a solid monograph about the history of TOPGUN. Some useful books exist, such as Robert Wilcox’s Scream of Eagles (2005), based on a series of oral histories, or the memoir of co-founder Dan Pedersen, Topgun: An American Story (2019). However, these are primarily the accounts of participants rather than a deeper analysis of TOPGUN’s development. Aviation author Brad Elward attempts to fill this gap with Topgun: The Legacy, a massive tome covering the school in extreme detail. This book is undoubtedly the definitive guide to the TOPGUN programme, and it is difficult to imagine a more authoritative work on the subject. However, while a few missed opportunities result in the book being a bit less than the sum of its parts, those parts present are very strong and offer significant value to the reader.

The first thing readers will notice about this book is how massive it is. It’s huge, heavy, and hard to hold. It’s packed with small print spread over 688 pages—over 130 of which are reserved for footnotes. Although perhaps difficult for a casual read, the book’s size reveals just how rich it is in detail and research. Elward conducted over 450 interviews and had more access to the archived records of TOPGUN than any other researcher. This allows Elward to present unprecedented intricacy levels about what happened at TOPGUN over its history. Minute details are revealed, including the changes to the curriculum over the years, precisely who participated and in what capacities, the partnerships with other services, the school’s relationship to the rest of the US Navy, and far more. All this detail is bolstered by frank personal accounts of pilots, instructors, and other participants and eyewitnesses, which adds a fascinating layer to the narrative that is a great read.

Baranek-PRO-9-19 2
Just two months after the Ault Report was published, TOPGUN was up and running in an old trailer at NAS Miramar. The first class graduated later that year, c. 1969. (Source: US Naval Institute)

One element that jumped out was how often the curriculum changed and how quickly the instructors adapted to a changing environment. The courses were constantly revised and kept up to date, even in the face of significant challenges to the concept of TOPGUN. For example, introducing the F/A-18 Hornet prompted the instructors to incorporate more ground attack elements into their classes, overturning their previous exclusive focus on air-to-air combat. Tension remained, however, between the TOPGUN participants and the attack community, particularly those involved in the STRIKE U (Naval Strike Warfare Center) program. At times, the rivalry and posturing between these groups approached levels of drama associated with reality television. The level of cooperation between TOPGUN and other services was significant as well. Close coordination with the US Marines and the US Air Force helped create a more joint approach to training and the sharing of information. This had a noticeable effect on the combat operations of the 1990s and beyond, as aircrews could work together in a more joint-minded way than in previous conflicts.

Elward also brings a much welcome look into this more recent history of the school. Previous work on TOPGUN tends to focus on its early years and its influence on air combat in the Vietnam War. Elward brings an intricate amount of detail to the later years of TOPGUN in chapters arranged by decade. In this analysis, the 1990s emerge as the period of the most major transition in curriculum, approach, and aircraft. The school adopted new aircraft and teaching foci during that period and moved from Naval Air Station Miramar in California to Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada. The programme also took major organizational steps to change its relationship with the rest of the fleet, becoming more integrated and able to spread expertise throughout the force much more effectively. It was during this period, in 1996, when TOPGUN and STRIKE U merged along with the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School to form what is now known as Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center. Other significant changes to teaching in the 2000s as the global war on terror entailed a much heavier emphasis on ground attack as near-peer threats emerged in the air. Elward’s analysis is so detailed that it includes lengthy discussions of how the school switched to using email or other more mundane aspects of running the program brought about by changes in personal computing.

The book does have a few weaknesses, however. These mostly stem from the author’s enthusiasm for TOPGUN, which at times moves into advocacy for the program. This is evident in Elward’s main thesis, which is that in the major conflicts of the 20th Century, the US military forgot and had to re-learn the fundamentals of air combat, and only the formation of the US Navy’s TOPGUN program ended this cycle. This argument is similar to previous works (such as Wilcox and Pedersen). This thesis is unconvincing. Elward rightly points out that air combat knowledge was passed from pilots with experience in one conflict to those of the next, and the US Air Force’s Fighter Weapons School was active and successful throughout the early Cold War. The alleged habitual forgetting is not evident except in the case of the early 1960s, in which air-to-air combat training was severely reduced (or even eliminated) in the US Air Force and US Navy. The first several chapters are a useful synthesis of other works on the topic of air-to-air combat, but the book might be stronger without them.

In the attempt to portray TOPGUN as the solution to major problems, there are a few noticeable omissions of issues that might reflect less positively on the program. For example, the discussion of the Tailhook sexual assault incidents is dismissive and defensive, and Elward omits the tragic death of pilot Art Scholl while filming the Top Gun movie. Racial disparity is not mentioned, and the book does not address that TOPGUN has been overwhelmingly white and gives no recognition to the few African Americans who participated in and contributed to the program.

These flaws, however, do not change the fact that this book is incredibly well-researched, deeply detailed, and remains an engaging read even given its length. There will always be more room to ask new historical questions about TOPGUN, but this book has cemented its place as a definitive source on the topic. Elward’s work is sure to please enthusiasts and many general readers. Aviation scholars will find this a very useful source as well.

Dr Michael Hankins is the Curator for US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps post-World War II Aviation at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the author of Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F-16, and the Weaponisation of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia (2021). He is also the Podcast Editor at From Balloons to Drones. He is a former Professor of Strategy at the USAF Air Command and Staff College eSchool, and former Instructor of Military History at the US Air Force Academy. He earned his PhD in history from Kansas State University in 2018 and his master’s in history from the University of North Texas in 2013. He has a web page here and can be found on Twitter at @hankinstien.

Header image: The adversary instructor program was one of TOPGUN’s early contributions. When the US Navy established fleet adversary squadrons in the 1970s, it was important that adversary pilots provide standardized threat presentations in aircraft such as F-5s (top and middle) and A-4s (bottom). (Source: US Naval Institute)

#BookReview – Lavi: The United States, Israel and the Controversial Fighter Jet

#BookReview – Lavi: The United States, Israel and the Controversial Fighter Jet

John W. Golan, Lavi: The United States, Israel and the Controversial Fighter Jet. Lincoln NE: Potomac Books, 2016. Index. Maps. Figures. Tables. Images. Appendices. HBK. 416 pp.

Reviewed by Richard Shimooka

lavi

John Golan’s Lavi is a unique and welcome contribution to the field as the history of defence procurement, in general, remains a somewhat esoteric research area. Golan’s work focuses on the Israeli designed Lavi, a purpose-built close air support aircraft designed to replace the venerable Douglas A-4 Skyhawk in the Israeli Armed Forces (IAF) service. It had a short, bright life before the project reached an ignominious conclusion with a high stakes Israeli government cabinet meeting. Golan’s book chronicles the project’s history, drawing from a wide variety of primary sources, including documentation, interviews, and secondary sources. He effectively conveys Israel’s unique security environment and the need for a strong indigenous industrial base, which helped guide the programme’s development.

Golan’s unique background as an aviation engineer infuses his work with a different perspective than other accounts. He sews together many of the programme’s technical aspects with the project’s political, diplomatic, programme management, and doctrinal dimensions. That synthesis is rare in many accounts, which examine one or two areas and only make perfunctory acknowledgements of other areas. Lavi avoids that trap and is one of the most comprehensive treatments of a recent procurement project. The book starts by exploring the strategic and doctrinal history of the IAF that led to the project and the development of the country’s aviation industry that enabled its creation. A crucial part of these sections is how Golan highlights the experiences of various personnel, such as Benjamin Peled (p. 24) and Ezer Weizman (p. 37), who both played important roles during the Lavi’s gestation. The book then moves onto the programme’s project management, political, and technical dimensions, tracing its development until its demise. The book’s last third covers some of the post-cancellation fallout and effects.

One part of the book bears special mention: the appendixes. While most authors use them to elucidate topics not adequately addressed in the text, Golan adds nearly 100 pages covering various aspects of fighter design, performance, construction, and industrial considerations. No such comparable study exists that collects all these considerations in one place. It is the icing on top of the author’s already excellent book.

However, the account has a few shortcomings. The most apparent is how Golan addresses the factors and decision-making that led to the programme’s collapse. The book catalogues the wide array of factors that led to its cancellation, such as the desperate state of Israeli public finances in the late 1980s. However, the book largely relegates them as contributing factors throughout its narrative. Golan reserves much of the blame surrounding the programme’s collapse to US Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger. In particular, the secretary’s anti-Israeli perspective and dogged bureaucratic approach are noted as being particularly effective at convincing already reticent Israeli authorities to cancel the programme.  Golan prioritises Weinberger’s agency over all other actors and seems to give his role the preponderance of blame for the outcome.

While Weinberger undoubtedly played an obstructionist role, the Israeli government was not the only one to encounter his department’s intransigence towards multinational fighter projects. For example, the development of the Japanese Mitsubishi F-2 programme experienced similar levels of strife. Thus, any multinational programme would encounter political hurdles within the United States.

Nevertheless, Golan’s focus on the political and diplomatic aspects of the programme’s cancellation slightly underplays some of the other dynamics that affected the outcome. One is the economic and industrial trends that affected all western fighter development programmes during the latter half of the Cold War. The number of Western fighter manufacturers started to decline between the 1960s to 1980s, largely due to the rising cost of developing and producing fighters, which far outpaced normal inflation.

In isolation, Israel might have been able to absorb these cost increases. However, the fiscal realities of the state were dire, as Golan described:

At the time that Israel’s National Unity Government took office, the nation was undergoing an economic earthquake. Decades of extended defense budgets had taken their toll. Defense expenditures had always been a leading element in Israel’s national budget. In the aftermath of the 1973 war, however, Israeli defense expenditures had skyrocketed – consuming an average of 24 percent of Israel’s gross domestic product during the decade that followed. In comparison, the United States – even at the height of the war in Vietnam – devoted less than 10 percent of its GDP toward defense. The burden on Israel’s economy was unbearable, driving budget deficits and inflation to unprecedented levels. (p. 101)

Golan’s characterises the factors pertaining to the Lavi’s demise as chess pieces employed by Weinberger and his staff to cancel the fighter. However, given these desperate economic realities, it is difficult to see how the programme would continue even after the fateful cancellation of the fighter on August 31, 1987. Already there was significant support for either cancelling or curtailing Lavi purchases within the Israeli cabinet. If purchases were reduced, this would create a phenomenon known as a death spiral, where decreasing lot purchases result in higher unit costs, often leading to further reductions.

Another significant dynamic unexplored in the book is the major, ongoing doctrinal shift in the close-air support mission. Golan’s work is effusive in its praise for the Israeli fighter, often pointing out its ability to undertake this mission. However, the book fails to cover the changing threat landscape, which would pose significant challenges for the aircraft’s viability in its assigned mission.

It should be noted that these are relatively minor issues in an otherwise excellent book. Very few accounts have synthesised such a disparate but relevant array of facts to create an authoritative account of the programme. Golan’s weighting of these factors may invite some critique and debate, but that should by no means discourage anyone from reading this outstanding work.

Richard Shimooka is a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Canada. He was a Senior Fellow at the Defence Management Studies Programme at Queen’s University from 2007–2012, and a Research Fellow at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute from 2012-2017. Richard works’ cover a diverse array of topics, including Canadian and American foreign and defence policy, modern air power and defence procurement.

Header image: IAI Lavi B-2 prototype at Muzeyon Heyl ha-Avir, Hatzerim, Israel. 2006. (Source: Wikimedia)

#BookReview – CIA Station D: Area 51 – The Complete Illustrated History of the CIA’s Station D at Area 51

#BookReview – CIA Station D: Area 51 – The Complete Illustrated History of the CIA’s Station D at Area 51

T.D. Barnes, CIA Station D: Area 51 – The Complete Illustrated History of the CIA’s Station D at Area 51. Danbury, CT: Begell House, 2021. Photographs. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. 590 pp. HBK.

Reviewed by Dr Michael W. Hankins

cia-station-d-area-51

Area 51 has long been a source of fascination, intrigue, and conspiracy theories. It has also inspired popular culture from television and film to 2019’s widely publicised (but barely attended) Facebook-based attempt to ‘storm the site. However, those familiar with the military aviation world have long known that Area 51 is little more than a US Air Force (USAF) (formerly Central Intelligence Agency, CIA) facility where experimental aircraft are tested. This includes everything from the U-2 spy plane to the F-117 stealth fighter. T.D. Barnes, who worked with the CIA during its formative years at Area 51, attempts to set the record straight with this new book covering the CIA’s activities in the Nevada desert during the early and mid-Cold War. The result is a profoundly informative work that reveals new stories and will please enthusiasts. Still, the size of the book and its challenging organisation might be overwhelming for casual readers.

From the early origins of Station D, which only much later became known as Area 51, Barnes traces the major CIA aviation programs based there. These include the U-2, the A-12 (and associated Blackbird ‘family’ aircraft of the YF-12, SR-71, and M-21), and the MiG exploitation programs that evaluated and flew captured Soviet aircraft. Some side projects associated with these significant programs are explored as well, most notably Project PALLADIUM, which provided valuable intelligence on Soviet radar capabilities. The details of these programs will already be known to many readers. For example, the Blackbird family programs are well documented by works such as Paul Crickmore’s Lockheed Blackbird: Beyond the Secret Missions (revised edition, 2016) or Richard Graham’s The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird (2015). However, Barnes’ work reveals fascinating new details about even these well-covered topics. Barnes presents both familiar and new stories from the perspective of the CIA rather than from the USAF or industry contractors. The Palladium program is particularly interesting, involving complicated, world-ranging plots to send fake signals in the direction of the Soviet Union to see what their radars could detect. Barnes does a good job of tracing the story from field teams collecting information to how information was analysed and used in technological and strategic decision-making at the highest levels.

A12radartesting
A scale model of an A-12 prepared for radar cross section measurements at ‘Area 51,’ c. 1959. (Source: Wikimedia)

This fresh perspective is also wide-ranging. At times, Barnes zooms out to discuss broad historical topics and focuses on minute details of a particular program. As a result, readers will find a wealth of immense detail, as well as many photographs, some of which have not been published before (although some of the photos are of low resolution and appear pixelated on the page). Although technology is often at the centre of these stories, Barnes also sheds interesting light on the institutional histories; seeing the organisational evolution and institutional rivalries from the CIA’s perspective is an interesting and welcome lens on this material. For example, Barnes traces the various tensions between the CIA and the USAF, from high command to individual personnel.

The individual level is where the book really shines. Barnes gives a true, ‘on the ground’ account of many of these programs, not only showing how the CIA’s efforts affected the Cold War, but depicting what it felt like to live there, to work there, and the realities of day-to-day life inside a top-secret facility working on advanced, world-changing programs. The Blackbirds may have been top-of-the-line, sleek, space-age aircraft. Still, Barnes contrasts that with stories about the trouble getting clearances and badges, the type of housing available on the station, the type of bars that employees frequented, and the games with which personnel and pilots amused themselves. Whether he is telling a detailed technological history or something personal, the focus is on the details of these stories – there is no large historical analysis, nor a broad historical argument made in this book.

4477th_Test_and_Evaluation_Squadron_MiG-21_in_flight
A MiG-21F-13 flown by United States Navy and Air Force Systems Command during HAVE DOUGHNUT in 1968. (Source: Wikimedia).

As interesting as the material is, some readers have a few barriers to entry. The first is the whopping price tag of US$149. Although this cost might be too high for some readers, it is worth noting the amount of material one gets for the price. The book is heavy and massive, almost unwieldy. It contains nearly 600 oversized, double-columned pages, each of which is almost twice the dimensions of a typical print book. In terms of word count, this is probably about three typical books’ worth of material, which might help to justify the cost for some readers.Historians looking for a thesis will not find one, as the work does not seek to make a historical argument. Instead, it is focused on detailed accounts of individual stories. Furthermore, although the book is packed with detail, the immense amount of material might be difficult for some readers to navigate. In addition, it is written in a meandering style, which is sometimes charming, but at other times leads to repetition. In some cases, stories are told and retold, sometimes more than once. Usually, the retellings of stories contain slightly different emphases, but periodically sentences are repeated verbatim, and in some cases, photographs are reused. There are no footnotes and only a brief bibliography. Except for a few instances where a document is referenced directly in the text, readers may have trouble finding sources for information or quotes.

In conclusion, enthusiasts of the U-2, A-12/SR-71, and captured MiG programs will likely find much to like about this book, including newly discovered details and fresh images from a new perspective. Although it is a bit less accessible to casual readers, researchers will find plenty to pore over here.

Dr Michael Hankins is the Curator for US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps post-World War II Aviation at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the author of Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F-16, and the Weaponisation of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia (2021). He is also the Podcast Editor at From Balloons to Drones. He is a former Professor of Strategy at the USAF Air Command and Staff College eSchool, and former Instructor of Military History at the US Air Force Academy. He earned his PhD in history from Kansas State University in 2018 and his master’s in history from the University of North Texas in 2013. He has a web page here and can be found on Twitter at @hankinstien.

Header image: A Lockheed M-21 carrying Lockheed D-21 drone in flight. (Source: Wikimedia)

#Podcast – The F-15 and F-16: Fighter Pilot Culture and Technology: An Interview with Dr Michael Hankins

#Podcast – The F-15 and F-16: Fighter Pilot Culture and Technology: An Interview with Dr Michael Hankins

Editorial Note: Led by our Editor Dr Mike Hankins, From Balloons to Drones produces a monthly podcast that provides an outlet for the presentation and evaluation of air power scholarship, the exploration of historical topics and ideas, and provides a way to reach out to both new scholars and the general public. You can find our Soundcloud channel here. You can also find our podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Our own co-host Michael Hankins discusses his new book, Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F-16, and the Weaponization of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia, from Cornell University Press. We look at the development process of the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon, talk about the elements of fighter pilot culture, and the ever-controversial Colonel John Boyd.

41jlB582OhL

Dr Michael Hankins is the Curator for US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps post-World War II Aviation at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the author of Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F-16, and the Weaponization of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia (2021). He is the Podcast Editor at From Balloons to Drones, a former Professor of Strategy at the USAF Air Command and Staff College eSchool, and former Instructor of Military History at the US Air Force Academy. He earned his PhD in history from Kansas State University in 2018 and his master’s in history from the University of North Texas in 2013. He has a web page here and can be found on Twitter at @hankinstien.

Header image: This cartoon from a 1977 General Dynamics briefing depicts the ‘myth’ that the F-16 production model had inferior performance to the original YF-16 prototype (Source: Lockheed Martin photo via Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum).

#BookReview – Drone War Vietnam

#BookReview – Drone War Vietnam

David Axe, Drone War Vietnam. Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021. Illustrations. Bibliography. Index. Hbk. viii + 166 pp.

Reviewed by Dr Roger Connor

9781526770264

The rapidly expanded use of military drones for surveillance and targeted strikes has generated greater interest in 20th Century military drone development and use over the past two decades. The most prolific antecedent to the General Atomics Predator was the US Air Force’s (USAF) Vietnam-era employment of Ryan 147 ‘Lightning Bug,’ a variant of the Firebee turbine-powered target drone developed in the late 1940s. In all, 3,435 Lightning Bug combat missions were flown over the South-East Asia combat by 1,106 of what today would be regarded as ‘attritable’ drones. Launched from a DC-130 mothership and recovered in flight after popping a parachute by CH-3 helicopters, these unconventional reconnaissance remotely piloted aircraft fit the traditional rationale for drones – the D’s: Dull, Dirty (nuclear), or Dangerous operations. Over North Vietnam, Lightning Bug flights freed RF-101 and other reconnaissance crews from particularly hazardous or politically sensitive missions, such as documenting air defence sites, especially S-75 (NATO designated SA-2) surface-to-air missile complexes. Some even performed propaganda leaflet drops. While the 147s flew unarmed in operations, considerable development occurred in equipping them with precision-guided ordnance, but the war ended before they were suitable for deployment.

David Axe, a self-described journalist, filmmaker, and blogger, has produced a slick-looking, if somewhat anemic, study of the Ryan Lightning Bugs. Organized into sixteen short chapters of roughly four-to-eight pages, each separated by photographic spreads, the first three chapters address the early history of the Lightning Bugs, framing them as a response to the challenge of the Soviet S-75 (SA-2) surface-to-air missile. Chapters four to fifteen document various episodes of operations of operations over North Vietnam with an emphasis on Ryan’s response to the challenges encountered. The final chapter documents Ryan’s next generation Model 154 drone.

DC-130_Hercules_taking_off_with_Firebee_drones_for_recon_mission_over_Vietnam
A US Air Force Lockheed DC-130A Hercules taking off on a mission in Southeast Asia, carrying two Ryan AQM-34 Firebee drones, c. 1969. Firebees flew reconnaissance missions using a pre-programmed guidance system or by remote control from the DC-130 crew. (Source: Wikimedia)

Drone War Vietnam attempts a survey of Lightning Bug operations while linking them with post-war strategic applications of remotely piloted aircraft and the broader narrative of drone development. The primary attraction for Axe’s narrative is that it is well-illustrated with images that do not appear in other works on the topic. Many of these photos originated with the Ryan archives, now in possession of the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. These include multiple perspectives of drone operators in DC-130 motherships and a Marine Corps CH-37 helicopter used in drone recovery operations that crashed in just such an attempt. As a visual record of this technological niche, Axe’s monograph is the best available in print.

Unfortunately, Axe’s narrative is disappointing. A significant factual error in the first two sentences of the introduction sets the tone (incorrectly describing the well-documented 2001 first strike made from an MQ-1). Casual errors such as Mutually Assured Destruction being described as having existed in 1950 also crop up. While these contextual errors are frustrating, fundamental errors on the topic are less forgivable. For instance, Axe notes, ‘[B]etween 1966 and the end of the Vietnam War, Army helicopters attempted 2,745 drone recoveries and completed 2,655 of them: a 96.7 per cent success rate’ (p. 90). This is a nice recitation of facts, except that almost exclusively USAF helicopters of the 350th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron performed the duty – a critical fact that does not appear in the text. Axe’s writing style is accessible, but sometimes overly so with the use of incomplete sentences, for example, ‘[N]o opportunity to bait an S-75 battery’ (p. 80).

Axe’s understanding of the sweep of drone history is poor. He takes an American-centric focus, but even then, has ignored the broader historiography of remotely piloted aircraft development. Instead, he describes drone history as Kettering Bug begets Denny Radioplane begets Firebee. A quick look at H.R. Everett’s Unmanned Systems of World War II (2015) should have been enough to avoid such a flawed chronology. Meanwhile, the technical aspects inherent in the Lightning Bug’s achievements receive little attention, particularly concerning the challenges and limitations of operating and recovering the drones. Likewise, the incredible advances in inertial navigation that made autonomous flight in contested airspace possible pass with only a couple of sentences.

The text is not footnoted, and tellingly, neither Axe nor his editor understood the difference between primary and secondary sources as they are delineated in his bibliography, though almost nothing he includes there would be considered a primary source. Even obvious sources, like the Project CHECO report on Buffalo Hunter (the late war phase of Lightning Bug operations), easily obtainable online, are missing.

Most of Axe’s narrative is a retelling of William Wagner’s Lightning Bugs and other Reconnaissance Drones (1982). Wagner’s forty-year-old effort is the historian’s more thorough and polished option. Axe at least credits Wagner, a former Ryan Aeronautical executive, with much of his content, but this effort is a poor imitation of the original. Where Axe does improve on Wagner is in the contextual frame of drone operations, for which he adds a geopolitical frame of the various events and geographical operations. These are often over-simplistic, but they do succeed in making the book more accessible for an enthusiast audience interested in the hardware but with less understanding of the history and establishing a more well-rounded narrative. However, this contextual frame is often awkwardly executed in a way that does little to inform the application of drones, for example, a three-page chapter on the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The flip side is that Axe spends less than a third of the monograph on Lightning Bug operations in the Vietnam War. Instead, with Wagner as his primary source, he spends as much time on China overflights and ELINT (electronic intelligence) variants used to monitor North Korea as the far more substantive deployments over North Vietnam. Axe’s supposedly operational history thus primarily reflects a contractor perspective with very little of the service experience one might expect from this type of study.

These shortcomings become very apparent when examining a campaign like Linebacker II. As Wagner himself noted, Lightning Bug operations reached their peak during the operation. Axe’s telling of the story is almost exclusively in the frame of B-52 experience, which is a nice contextual detail, but adds nothing to the understanding of how or why remotely piloted aircraft were significant to the campaign.

QH-50_DD-692_1967
A QH-50 DASH anti-submarine drone on board the destroyer USS Allen M. Sumner during a deployment to Vietnam. The photo was taken between April and June 1967. (Source: Wikimedia)

Axe pays some attention to remotely piloted adjuncts to the Lightning Bugs such as the Lockheed D-21 and Ryan 154 Compass Arrow, both focused on the Chinese nuclear program. The decision to include these is somewhat odd as they are outside of his Southeast Asian narrative. While the Compass Arrow has at least a corporate family tree associated with the Lightning Bugs, the D-21 has no operational or technical overlap. Meanwhile, Axe makes no mention of the other prominent drone programs employed in South-East Asia such as the QU-22 and the QH-50 drone helicopter. The QU-22 were droned Beechcraft Bonanzas used as communication relay platforms for the Igloo White ‘electronic fence’ of ground sensors on the Ho Chi Minh trail. The QH-50s were used primarily to spot naval gunfire. The QU-22 and QH-50 provide a useful frame for understanding the broader requirement for drone aircraft and the inherent limitations of the technology. It is this sort of assessment and analysis that is most notably absent. Instead, Axe is content to conclude that the legacy of the Lightning Bugs was to show that the Predator’s milestones weren’t new (p. 150). Nuanced quibbles about what was new with Predator aside (quite a lot, in fact), this rather obvious point could have also been made about drone aircraft in World War II. The 147 (along with QU-22s and QH-50s) demonstrated an emergent association between remotely piloted remotely piloted aircraft and the goal of risk reduction in limited war, which was something revolutionary, but the author did is not well versed enough in the topic to see it.

Besides Wagner, there is another useful study, which Axe neglected entirely, specifically Steve Miller’s nearly 700-page self-published The 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron: The Air Force’s Story of Unmanned Reconnaissance in the Vietnam War (2017). Though Miller would have benefited greatly from an editor, it is a useful expansion on Wagner’s dated history, written by a Lightning Bug veteran and introduces a trove of primary source documentation, as well as a much-needed USAF operational perspective. He also brings in the QU-22 story. If Axe had focused more on veterans’ experiences like Miller, Drone War Vietnam might have been worth recommending. Instead, it is a pale shadow of Wagner’s better publication.

With the disappointments inherent in Axe’s monograph, one wonders what an effective revision of Wagner’s solid work might look like. However, Kevin Wright’s We Were Never There: CIA U-2 Operations Over Europe, the USSR and the Middle East, 1956-1960 (2021) gives an idea of what might be possible. Linking mission reports, operational context, supported by high-quality maps and graphics, he has developed a glossy enthusiast-style publication that meets scholarly standards of documentation while proving attractive and accessible for the aviation general-interest audience. A similar work on the Lightning Bugs would help both the scholarly study and enthusiast appreciation of remotely piloted and autonomous aircraft operations.

Dr Roger Connor curates several collections at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, including remotely piloted and autonomous aircraft, vertical flight, Army ground force aviation, cockpit equipment, and aviation infrastructure. He earned his PhD from George Mason University in 2020 with his dissertation, ‘Rooftops to Rice Paddies: Helicopters, Aerial Utopianism, and the Creation of the National Security State.’

Header image: The US Air Force Ryan AQM-34L Firebee drone ‘Tom Cat’ of the 556th Reconnaissance Squadron flew 68 missions over North Vietnam before being shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Hanoi. (Source: Wikimedia)

#BookReview – Picturing the Space Shuttle: The Early Years

#BookReview – Picturing the Space Shuttle: The Early Years

J.L. Pickering and John Bisney, Picturing the Space Shuttle: The Early Years. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2021. Hbk. 240 pp.

Reviewed by Dr Brian Laslie

picturing-the-space-shuttle

A couple of years ago, in a book review for From Balloons to Drones, I started by saying:

A different type of book necessitates a different type of book review. Herein you will not find an author’s argument or a critique thereof since the book being discussed today is a collection of photographs and an extremely fine one at that.

That book review was for J.L. Pickering and John Bisney’s Picturing Apollo 11: Rare Views and Undiscovered Moments. The same authors have followed up that superb effort with the recently released Picturing the Space Shuttle: The Early Years.

As the title suggests, the authors undertake to produce a pictorial history of – and to look at the development of – the reusable Shuttle Transportation System (STS), the Approach and Landing Tests (ALT), the astronaut class of 1978 (the ‘Thirty-Five New Guys,’ or TFNGs) and the first four STS missions that made up the test program for the new shuttle. Pickering and Bisney have again accomplished just that and produced a unique look at the early days of the space shuttle program, using rare, never-before-published photographs from the late 1970s and early 1980s. The book opens with a forward from STS-1 pilot Robert L. Crippen, who stated that he hoped the book ‘will increase your appreciation for what a remarkable accomplishment the Space Shuttle was.’ Crippen need not worry; the book does precisely that.

Although ostensibly a book of photographs, there is also enough background here to keep the layman and the historian happy with the development of the program. However, it is the photos that stand out. From Maxime Faget’s original model of a reusable space shuttle to the numerous designs, concepts, and artists’ renderings as they developed into the recognizable shuttle design that went into production, there are enough photographs in the first chapter alone to make the book worth the purchase.

s78-26481-orig
This is a montage of the individual portraits of the 35-member 1978 class of astronaut candidates. The Astronaut Class of 1978, otherwise known as the ‘Thirty-Five New Guys,’ was NASA’s first new group of astronauts since 1969. This class was notable for many reasons, including having the first African-American and first Asian-American astronauts and the first women. From left to right are Guion S. Bluford, Daniel C. Brandenstein, James F. Buchli, Michael L. Coats, Richard O. Covey, John O. Creighton, John M. Fabian, Anna L. Fisher, Dale A. Gardner, Robert L. Gibson, Frederick D. Gregory, S. David Griggs, Terry J. Hart, Frederick H. (Rick) Hauck, Steven A. Hawley, Jeffrey A. Hoffman, Shannon W. Lucid, Jon A. McBride, Ronald E. McNair, Richard M. (Mike) Mullane, Steven R. Nagel, George D. Nelson, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, Sally K. Ride, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Rhea Seddon, Brewster H. Shaw Jr., Loren J. Shriver, Robert L. Stewart, Kathryn D. Sullivan, Norman E. Thagard, James D. Van Hoften, David M. Walker and Donald E. Williams. (Source: NASA)

Some of the great gems are the photos that show the transition from the Apollo era to the shuttle era. Nowhere is this more clearly displayed than the chapter detailing the Shuttle Enterprise’s Approach and Landing Tests. Here, Apollo mission veteran Fred Haise (Apollo 13) is joined by Gordon Fullerton, Joe Engle, and Richard Truly to test the flying characteristics of the new shuttle. Dave Scott and Deke Slayton in very late-1970s garb also make appearances in these pages (pp. 38-9). This transition is completed in the next chapter with the introduction of NASA’s next astronaut class, the ‘TFNGs,’ which introduced America and the world to the names of Guion Bluford, Anna Fisher, Robert Gibson, Steven Hawley, Sally Ride, and many others. The book includes a complete montage of the 35 Group 8 astronauts, the TFNGs (p. 71). Many of them are also pictured testing out Apollo-era spacesuits, marking the transition from old to new. If you had a favourite shuttle-era astronaut, there is a good chance they were represented in this class, and I was pleased to see photos of some of my heroes herein: Rhea Seddon, Frederick Gregory, and Shannon Lucid (65-71).

Obviously, the book really takes off (pun completely intended) with a section devoted to the first four shuttle missions, all of them aboard the Columbia. After that, the book moves from construction at Palmdale to delivery to Kennedy. The woes of Columbia’s heat-ablative tiles are adequately covered and, although the shuttle is a brand-new ship, it looks the worse for wear in several photographs (pp. 104-5). However, these problems overcome, there are some truly terrific ‘behind the scenes’ shots as Columbia is mated to the stack and rolled out to the pad. Here, there are some iconic photographs of the shuttle sitting on the pad with the setting sun turning the clouds a stunning orange and lifting into bright clear-blue Florida skies, but also some great shots ‘on orbit’ and the crews returning safely to Earth along the tanned lakebed of Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The Space Shuttle Columbia touches down on lakebed runway 23 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to conclude the first orbital shuttle mission
The Space Shuttle Columbia touches down on lakebed runway 23 at Edwards Air Force Base to conclude the first orbital shuttle mission, 14 April 1981. (Source: NASA)

Picturing the Space Shuttle is another masterwork. It is truly a tour de force and a compelling collection of photographs that should be on the bookshelf of everyone who considers themselves a shuttle aficionado. One hopes that Pickering and Bisney continue to comb through the photographic archives of later shuttle missions. It has been 40 years since Columbia lifted into the sky for the first time and, perhaps even more amazing, a decade since the last shuttle returned safely to earth. As time marches on and the shuttle program recedes into memory, Pickering and Bisney have given us a reason to remember what Astronaut John Young called the ‘world’s greatest flying machine,’ the Space Shuttle.

Dr Brian Laslie is a US Air Force Historian and is the Command Historian at the United States Air Force Academy. Formerly he was the Deputy Command Historian at North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM). He is the Book Reviews Editor for From Balloons to Drones. A 2001 graduate of The Citadel and a historian of air power studies, he received his Masters’ from Auburn University Montgomery in 2006 and his PhD from Kansas State University in 2013. He is the author of Air Power’s Lost Cause: The American Air Wars of Vietnam (2021),  Architect of Air Power: General Laurence S. Kuter and the Birth of the US Air Force (2017) and The Air Force Way of War (2015). The latter book was selected for the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s 2016 professional reading list and the 2017 RAF Chief of the Air Staff’s reading list. He can be found on Twitter at @BrianLaslie.

Header image:  The Space Shuttle Columbia glides down over Rogers Dry Lake as it heads for a landing at Edwards Air Force Base at the conclusion of its first orbital mission on 14 April 1981. (Source: NASA)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (November 2021)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (November 2021)

Editorial note: In this series, From Balloons to Drones highlights research resources available to researchers. Contributions range from discussions of research at various archival repositories to highlighting new publications. As part of this series, we are bringing you a monthly precis of recent articles and books published in air power history. This precis will not be exhaustive but will highlight new works published in the preceding month. Publication dates may vary around the globe and are based on those provided on the publisher’s websites. If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or via our contact page here.

Articles

John Alexander, ‘The Worsted Manufacturer, Roderick Hill and ‘the most courageous decision of the War’: The Decision to Reorganise Britain’s Air Defence to Counter the V-1 Flying Bomb,’ RAF Air and Space Power Review 23, no. 1 (2021).

The first four V-1 flying bombs crossed the Channel in the early hours of 13 June 1944, exactly one week after D-Day; none were engaged and one reached Bethnal Green killing four people. When overnight 15/16 June the German Air Force launched 244 V-1s against London, the long-planned British counter V-1 defences, consisting of fighter, gun and balloon belts, brought down only thirty-three V-1s, including eleven shot-down by anti-aircraft (AA) guns, and seventy landed on London. This paper explores the decision to reorganise Britain’s Air Defence during this crucial stage of the War.

Orazio Coco, ‘The Italian Military Aviation in Nationalist China: General Roberto Lordi and the Italian Mission in Nanchang (1933–1937),’ The International History Review (2021). DOI: 10.1080/07075332.2021.1984277

On 7 September 1933, military officers of the Italian Air Force led by Colonel Roberto Lordi departed from Naples to reach China with the task, agreed upon by Italian fascist and Chinese nationalist governments, of building a factory assembling Italian-made aircraft and training pilots for the Republic of China. The mission was stationed at Nanchang, in today’s Jiangxi province. The initiative was developed in competition with a similar American mission, which had operated since 1932 in Hankou, in the Hubei province, at the time led by Colonel John H. Jouett. The Italian government won Chiang’s attention with the agreement to use the military airfield and Italian aircraft against the Communist resistance, which pleased the expectations of the Generalissimo. In April 1934, the headquarters of the Chinese military aviation finally moved to Nanchang. The mission’s commander, Roberto Lordi, was promoted Brigadier General of the Italian Royal Air Force and appointed Chief of Staff of the Chinese Air Force. This article presents, through extensive use of unpublished private and public archive documents, the controversial history of the Italian military mission and unveils the circumstances that changed the fortune of that successful story, as well as the career and personal life of its commander.

Steven Paget, ‘The ‘Eeles Memorandum’: A Timeless Study of Professional Military Education,’ RAF Air and Space Power Review 23, no. 1 (2021).

Examinations of historical examples are an important element of the professional military education debate and demonstrate the enduring nature of some of the necessary considerations. Air Commodore Henry Eeles, the Commandant of Royal Air Force (RAF) College Cranwell between August 1952 and April 1956 wrote a prescient report in 1955. The military, political and social changes that were occurring have some parallels to the contemporary context, including expectations about access to higher education and the introduction of new technology, which was viewed as leading to an era of so-called ‘push button warfare’. Eeles was also cognisant of issues such as balance, time and life-long learning that are just as pertinent today as in 1955. The context and content of the report has ensured that it has enduring relevance for the RAF.

Matthew Powell, ‘Royalties, Patents and Sub-Contracting: The Curious Case of the Hawker Hart,’ RAF Air and Space Power Review 23, no. 1 (2021). 

Aircraft procurement by the Air Ministry in the inter-war period was beset by various problems, with numerous solutions proposed in an attempt to resolve them. One such potential solution was the proposal to sub-contract the production to other aircraft manufacturers within the Air Ministry’s ring of firms who were allocated firm orders. This action by the Air Ministry, it was believed, would spread the technical knowledge of aircraft production to a wider base that could be built upon in a time of national emergency or war. This approach was also a way of ‘artificially’ keeping firms alive where they had been unsuccessful in being awarded contracts. Such a scheme would, from the industry’s perspective, however, lead to less orders for firms successful in aircraft design and allow the potential sharing of industry secrets amongst direct competitors.

Richard Worrall, “Bumps along “The Berlin Road”’: Bomber Command’s forgotten Battle of Hanover, September-October 1943,’ RAF Air and Space Power Review 23, no. 1 (2021).

The many accounts on RAF Bomber Command follow the usual chronology of the ‘Main Offensive’ against Germany throughout 1943/4, with a linear progression from the Battle of the Ruhr, to the Battle of Hamburg, to the Battle of Berlin. Yet adopting this approach is problematic. The Battle of Berlin was halted by Harris in mid-September only to be recommenced in mid-November, but it, therefore, begs the simple question: what was Bomber Command doing during the interim ten weeks? Harris’ force was far from inactive during this time, in which the centrepiece was the ‘Battle of Hanover’ that comprised four heavy-attacks in twenty-six days. This article identifies what happened during this period of the ‘Main Offensive’, to suggest why this ‘bomber battle’ has remained forgotten, highlighting how Bomber Command’s experiences over Hanover revealed its limitations at this critical stage of the bombing war.

Books

Tony Fairbairn, The Mosquito in the USAAF: De Havilland’s Wooden Wonder in American Service (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021).

On 20 April 1941, a group of distinguished Americans headed by the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom, John Winant, and which included Major General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold, Chief of the US Army Air Corps, visited the de Havilland Aircraft Company’s airfield at Hatfield, England.

The party was there ostensibly to gain an insight into how various US aircraft supplied to Britain were performing, as well as to observe some of the latest British products being put through their paces. The eighteen types on display included both US and British bombers and fighters. But the star of the day was undoubtedly the de Havilland Mosquito.

Having first flown only a few months earlier, on 25 November 1940, the aircraft that was put through its paces was flown by none other than Geoffrey de Havilland. Striving to impress the trans-Atlantic visitors, de Havilland provided an outstanding display of speed and manoeuvrability. It was a routine that impressed the Americans and left them in no doubt as to the Mosquito’s abilities.

Though the visitors harboured doubts about an aircraft made of wood, they returned to the United States with full details of the design. The Mosquito had also caught the eye of Elliott Roosevelt, son of the US President and a serving officer in the USAAC. An early specialist in military aerial mapping and reconnaissance, ‘ER’ swiftly realized the value of the Mosquito in the reconnaissance role and began lobbying vigorously for its acquisition. The Air Ministry duly noted ‘ER’s’ interest and influence.

Following America’s entry into the war, formal requests for Mosquitoes began in earnest in 1942. Initial deliveries for evaluation purposes in the United States soon followed in June 1943, the aircraft initially being supplied by de Havilland Canada. From February 1944 a steady flow of the photographic reconnaissance version, from Hatfield, were provided to what would become the USAAF’s 25th Bomb Group at Watton, England. There they served with distinction in a variety of specialist roles, including day and night photography, weather reconnaissance, ‘chaff’ (Window) dropping, scouting for the bomber force, raid assessment, and filming of special weapons projects.

A number of these Mosquitoes, serving with the 492nd Bomb Group at Harrington, were involved in the so-called ‘Joan-Eleanor’ project, working with OSS secret agents on the Continent. Finally, in 1945, the USAAF received much-anticipated night fighter Mosquitoes which enjoyed combat success with the 416th Night Fighter Squadron in Italy.

In this highly illustrated work, the author explores the full story of why the Americans wanted Mosquitoes, how they went about obtaining them, and their noted success and popularity with USAAF units.

Michael Hankins, Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F-16, and the Weaponization of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2021).

Flying Camelot brings us back to the post-Vietnam era, when the US Air Force launched two new, state-of-the art fighter aircraft: the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. It was an era when debates about aircraft superiority went public—and these were not uncontested discussions. Michael W. Hankins delves deep into the fighter pilot culture that gave rise to both designs, showing how a small but vocal group of pilots, engineers, and analysts in the Department of Defense weaponized their own culture to affect technological development and larger political change.

The design and advancement of the F-15 and F-16 reflected this group’s nostalgic desire to recapture the best of World War I air combat. Known as the “Fighter Mafia,” and later growing into the media savvy political powerhouse “Reform Movement,” it believed that American weapons systems were too complicated and expensive, and thus vulnerable. The group’s leader was Colonel John Boyd, a contentious former fighter pilot heralded as a messianic figure by many in its ranks. He and his group advocated for a shift in focus from the multi-role interceptors the Air Force had designed in the early Cold War towards specialized air-to-air combat dogfighters. Their influence stretched beyond design and into larger politicized debates about US national security, debates that still resonate today.

A biography of fighter pilot culture and the nostalgia that drove decision-making, Flying Camelot deftly engages both popular culture and archives to animate the movement that shook the foundations of the Pentagon and Congress.

Norman Ridley, The Role of Intelligence in the Battle of Britain (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021).

The Battle of Britain was fought between two airborne military elites and was a classic example of pure attack against pure defence. Though it was essentially a ‘war of attrition’, it was an engagement in which the gathering, assessment and reaction to intelligence played a significant role on both sides.

In some respects, both the RAF and the Luftwaffe were hamstrung in their endeavours during the Battle of Britain by poor intelligence. The most egregious Luftwaffe blunder was its failure to appreciate the true nature of Fighter Command’s operational systems and consequently it made fundamental strategic errors when evaluating its plans to degrade them. This was compounded by the Luftwaffe’s Intelligence chief, Major Josef ‘Beppo’ Schmid, whose consistent underestimation of Fighter Command’s capabilities had a huge negative impact upon Reichsmarschall Göring’s decision-making at all stages of the conflict.

Both the Luftwaffe and the RAF lacked detailed information about each other’s war production capacity. While the Luftwaffe did have the benefit of pre-war aerial surveillance data it had been unable to update it significantly since the declaration of war in September 1939. Fighter Command did have an distinct advantage through its radar surveillance systems, but this was, in the early stages of the conflict at least, less than totally reliable and it was often difficult to interpret the data coming through due to the inexperience of many of its operators. Another promising source of intelligence was the interception of Luftwaffe communications.

It is clear that the Luftwaffe was unable to use intelligence as a ‘force multiplier’, by concentrating resources effectively, and actually fell into a negative spiral where poor intelligence acted as a ‘force diluter’, thus wasting resources in strategically questionable areas. The British, despite being essentially unable to predict enemy intentions, did have the means, however imperfect, to respond quickly and effectively to each new strategic initiative rolled out by the Luftwaffe.

The result of three years intensive research, in this book the author analyses the way in which both the British and German Intelligence services played a part in the Battle of Britain, thereby attempting to throw light on an aspect of the battle that has been hitherto underexposed to scrutiny.

Stephen Wynn, Hitler’s Air Defences (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021).

The first Allied bombing raid on Berlin during the course of the Second World War, took place on 7 June 1940, when a French naval aircraft dropped 8 bombs on the German capital, but the first British raid on German soil took place on the night of 10/11 May 1940, when RAF aircraft attacked Dortmund.

Initially, Nazi Germany hadn’t given much thought about its aerial defences. being attacked in its ‘own back yard’ wasn’t something that was anticipated to be an issue. Germany had been on the offensive from the beginning of the war and Hitler believed that the Luftwaffe was the much stronger air force.

In addition, from 1939-1942, the Allied policy of aerial attacks on German soil was to hit targets with a distinct military purpose, such as munitions factories, airfields etc. This meant that the Germany military could focus where they placed their anti-aircraft batteries and had a very good idea of how many they would need.

However, Germany’s defensive capabilities were forced to improve as Allied raids on towns and cities increased in size and frequency. Fighter aircraft were included as part of anti-aircraft defences and flak units mastered the art of keeping attacking Allied aircraft at a specific height. This made it more difficult for them to identify their specific targets, and easier for German fighter aircraft to shoot them down before they could jettison their bomb loads.

With the Allied tactic of ‘area bombing’, Germany’s anti-aircraft capabilities became harder to maintain as demand increased. The longer the war went on, along with the increased Allied bombing raids, sometimes involving more than 1,000 bomber aircraft, so the worth and effectiveness of German air-defences dwindled.

Who Ruined the F-16? The Fighter Mafia’s Battle against the United States Air Force

Who Ruined the F-16? The Fighter Mafia’s Battle against the United States Air Force

By Dr Michael W. Hankins

Editorial note: This article is adapted from an excerpt from Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F16, and the Weaponization of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia, by Michael W. Hankins. Copyright (c) 2021 by Michael Wayne Hankins and Smithsonian Institution. Used by permission of the publisher, Cornell University Press.

On January 20, 1974, test pilot Phil Oestricher began a high-speed taxi test of the General Dynamics YF-16 prototype. When the plane went into an oscillating roll that slammed the left-wing into the ground, he decided it was safer to just take off for what became the aircraft’s first flight. The YF-16 was a passion project for many people across the aerospace defense community, especially a group known as the ‘Fighter Mafia,’ led by US Air Force (USAF) Colonel John Boyd. The group also included General Dynamics engineer Harry Hillaker, analyst Pierre Sprey, fighter pilot Everest Riccioni, analyst Thomas Christie, among many others. The YF-16 was the realization of their dream of a lightweight, ultra-specialized dogfighter – what Oestricher called ‘a pure air-to-air fighter airplane […] the Camelot of aeronautical engineering.’[1]

Yet, when USAF began the process of turning the YF-16 into the production model F-16A Fighting Falcon, the Fighter Mafia became bitterly opposed to the process. Their extreme frustration with the changes to the airplane set the stage for later debates as the group expanded and morphed into the Defense Reform Movement.

YF-16_and_YF-17_in_flight
An air-to-air right side view of a YF-16 aircraft and a YF-17 aircraft, side-by-side, armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. (Source: Wikimedia)

After winning a flyoff competition in January 1975 against Northrop’s YF-17 Cobra, the F-16 design went to the Configuration Control Committee, headed by former fighter pilot General Alton Slay, to produce an operational version of the plane. The Fighter Mafia nicknamed this group the ‘Add-On Committee,’ assuming Slay’s role was to exact the Air Force’s revenge by making sure the F-16 did not threaten the F-15 Eagle program. That meant turning the Fighting Falcon into a multi-role craft emphasizing ground attack.[2]

Christie, and his subordinate Robert J. Croteau, tried to stop this process before it started with a memo to Leonard Sullivan, Jr., the Director of Defense Program Analysis and Evaluation. They warned that moving away from the focus on air superiority would ‘subvert the purpose of the entire LWF/ACF [Lightweight fighter/Air Combat Fighter] program.’ The radar was the largest point of contention. They argued that a small radar such as the APQ-153 used in the F-5 was plenty. They wanted a configuration ‘based on primary commitment of the ACF to intense high frequency dogfights.’[3]

Instead, the production version of the F-16 put on almost 1,000 pounds. The landing gear was strengthened, the fuselage, wings, and tail area grew, and a tailhook was added. Chaff and flare systems and improved avionics also appeared. The production model added more pylons for ground-attack ordnance, with the existing pylons strengthened for heavier weapons. The loading capacity almost doubled, from 7,700 pounds to 15,200. Although the acceleration and agility of the operational F-16 was slightly less than the prototype YF-16, the production model did have increased range, thrust, and load factor, able to pull 9 Gs.[4]

The Air Force added a ground-looking, all-weather, night-capable, medium-range radar to the F-16, the Westinghouse AN/APG-66. The company maintained that this system was ‘The Fighter Pilot’s Radar,’ that would ‘allow the pilot to keep his head up and his hands on the throttle and stick throughout a dogfight engagement.’ With the flick of a switch, the radar provided ground mapping, improved with a Doppler beam, for both navigation and weapons delivery.[5] The avionics systems incorporated Boyd’s ‘Energy Maneuverability Theory’ into the cockpit via an ‘Energy-Maneuverability Display’ that gave pilots visual cues to indicate their current available energy, how to maximize their turn rates, the level of G-forces available, altitude and airspeed limits, and how to gain maneuvering energy quickly.[6]

Picture3
The YF-16 displayed alongside the ground attack armament it can carry, Edwards AFB, California, 12 February 1975 (Source: US Air Force)

Slay thought that the F-16 could complement the F-15 best if it was a multi-role aircraft. As he told the Senate in 1976:

The F-16 has a capability that the F-15 does not have, deliberately so. We did not choose to burden the F-15 radar with a significant air-to-ground capability. We have engineered the F-16 radar to have very good ground mapping [and] to do an extremely good job of air-to-ground missions.[7]

Slay appreciated the F-16’s maneuverability, noting ‘I almost had a heart attack watching the F-16 do a split ‘S’ from 2,700 feet. It was fantastic as far as maneuverability is concerned.’ He argued this made it useful in roles beyond dogfighting:

[t]he things that made [the F-16] good in an air-to-air role […] were extremely good in [an] air-to-ground context […] We got more than we paid for in having a multipurpose capable airplane.[8]

Boyd was unhappy with these changes and wrote to Slay several times in the opening months of 1975, arguing that ‘F-16 maneuvering performance has diminished significantly because of engineering necessity and conscious decisions that resulted in a substantial weight increase.’ Boyd said that the wing area, which had already been increased from 280 to 300 square feet, must be increased further to 320 to preserve the plane’s agility. This plan was rejected due to increased cost and a perception of increased risk with a larger wing.[9]

Boyd remained cordial in his correspondence with Slay, but privately, he and the rest of the Fighter Mafia seethed. Major Ray Leopold, Boyd’s assistant and mentee, described the group as worried that the F-16 would be ‘a disastrous compromise’ and ‘fall prey to the same vagrancies of the bureaucracy’ that the F-15 had. Leopold recalled Boyd complaining about the addition of armor plating, arguing that ‘it was mor[e] important to be maneuverable and less likely to get hit in the first place.’ He railed against the increase in bombing capacity, claiming that ‘the original concept of designing for energy maneuverability was compromised.’ Sprey was frustrated as well, claiming that the Air Force ‘degraded’ the F-16 more than they had the F-15 by increasing its size and adding equipment, most of all the radar.[10]

Hillaker, however, was not against some of the changes. Although he said that Boyd and Sprey’s frustration was reasonable, he recognized that the mafia’s original design was perhaps too limited: ‘If we had stayed with the original lightweight fighter concept,’ he explained, ‘that is, a simple day fighter, we would have produced only 300 F-16s.’[11]

On February 4, 1975, Croteau and Christie wrote to Sullivan, arguing that the changes to the F-16 were ‘unacceptable.’ They believed that the aircraft should have ‘a minimum of sophistication,’ that the additional avionics and radar capabilities were too complex and expensive, and that the added weight reduced performance in air combat. They charged: ‘Extensive air-to-ground capability of [the] proposed configuration compromises air-to-air capability.’ Croteau’s memo did present a potential design that offered the compromise of accepting some avionics, a radar, and limited ground-attack capability, but not including all the Air Force’s changes.[12] This model was not adopted.

By February 21, test pilot Chuck Myers sent a memo to Defense Secretary James Schlesinger’s special assistant, Martin Hoffman, arguing that the changes made to the plane made it ‘a far cry from the austere FIGHTER’ that the Fighter Mafia had envisioned, and that USAF needed to ‘restore the character of the airplane.’[13] He gave instructions for fixing the plane, titled ‘F-16 (LWF/ACF) PROGRAM RESTORATION.’ It excoriated the inclusion of ground attack and radar capability, then charged: ‘The expansion of mission spectrum is accomplished with an associated increases [sic] in weight, complexity, support burden and a loss of air combat maneuvering capability, the one mission for which the original design had been optimized.’ The paper concluded: ‘This mutilation of the character of the LWF through the ACF missionization process is a management travesty which cannot go unchallenged.’[14]

Members of the Fighter Mafia tended to assume that the changes made to the F-16 were retaliation for their challenges to the Air Staff. However, the Air Force had understandable reasons for adding additional capabilities to the F-16. The Air Staff argued that if the F-16 had no ground attack capability, then it could not truly replace the F-4 Phantom, which USAF wanted to phase out while preserving mission capabilities. If the F-16 conformed to the Fighter Mafia’s vision, then 30 percent of the Air Force inventory would be incapable of attacking ground targets. The Air Staff found that unacceptable. Although the F-16 could achieve air superiority, the aircraft would be useless once that superiority had been achieved in a conflict. By adding ground-attack functions, the Air Staff argued, the F-16 could be used in a ‘swing role’ to attack ground targets after air superiority had been won.[15]

An austere F-16 likely would have faced challenges without substantial radar capability. The inability to operate at night or in low-visibility weather conditions would render the aircraft problematic at best. Given that US planners expected a potential Soviet mass attack to occur in Europe, known for its often-cloudy weather conditions, deploying large numbers of such a clear sky, day-only fighter in that scenario would leave US forces particularly vulnerable. No amount of maneuverability could overcome the inability to see through clouds or in the dark against other aircraft that could. It is possible that some Air Force officials could have sought some sort of retaliation against the Fighter Mafia’s pet project, but the case for multi-role requirements had logical arguments behind it and came from a wide group.

Picture1
This cartoon from a 1977 General Dynamics briefing depicts the ‘myth’ that the F-16 production model had inferior performance to the original YF-16 prototype (Source: Lockheed Martin photo via Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum).

The F-16 modifications were a breaking point for Boyd and the Fighter Mafia. During the late 1970s, Boyd frequently gathered with his acolytes, complaining that the Air Force’s ‘goldplating’ was destroying the ‘pure’ fighter he had designed. After this point, Boyd focused entirely on his intellectual activities. He and others set their sights on different issues, sometimes regarding military hardware, but also doctrine, education, and procurement. These efforts expanded his movement. The Fighter Mafia soon took their arguments beyond the halls of the Pentagon and directly to the public.

Dr Michael Hankins is the Curator for US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps post-World War II Aviation at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the author of Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F-16, and the Weaponization of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia (2021). He is a former Professor of Strategy at the USAF Air Command and Staff College eSchool, and former Instructor of Military History at the US Air Force Academy. He earned his PhD in history from Kansas State University in 2018 and his master’s in history from the University of North Texas in 2013. He has a web page here and can be found on Twitter at @hankinstien.

[1] Quoted in Wade Scrogham, Combat Relevant Task: The Test & Evaluation of the Lightweight Fighter Prototypes (Edwards AFB: Air Force Test Center History Office, 2014), p. 67.

[2] James Fallows, National Defense (New York: Vintage, 1982), p 105; Grant Hammond, Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security (Washington, Smithsonian Books, 2001), p. 97.

[3] US Marine Corps Archives and Records Division, Quantico, VA, Robert Coram Personal Papers, Box 3 Folder 13, Robert J. Croteau, Memorandum for Mr. Sullivan, through Mr. Christie, ‘F-16 Air Combat Fighter DSARC II,’ January 27, 1975.

[4] Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM) Archives, General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon Series, Briefing Packets, AG-033100-03. General Dynamics, ‘F-16 Program Summary,’ August 15, 1977, ASD 771456.

[5] NASM Archives, General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon Series, Avionics Systems, AG-033100-02, Westinghouse Pamphlet, ‘AN/APG-68, The New Standard for Fighter Radar,’ no date; NASM Archives, General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon Series, Avionics Systems, AG-033100-02, Westinghouse Public Relations Release, ‘Westinghouse Starts Full-Scale Development of the F-16 Radar,’ no date.

[6] NASM Archives, General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon Series, Briefing Packets, AG-033100-02, General Dynamics, ‘F-16 Energy Management Displays,’ pamphlet, no date.

[7] Hearings before the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, S.2965, Part 6: Research and Development, February 25-26, March 2, 4, 9, 1976, 3739-3740.

[8] Ibid, Part 9: Tactical Airpower, March 8-12, 1976, 4896.

[9] US Marine Corps Archives and Records Division, John Boyd Personal Papers, Box 13 Folder 1, John Boyd, Memorandum for General Slay, ‘F-16 Wing Area Selection,’ March 31, 1975; US Marine Corps Archives and Records Division, Boyd Papers, Box 13 Folder 1, John Boyd, Memorandum for Maj Gen Slay, ‘F-16 Wing Area,’ March 4, 1975; US Marine Corps Archives and Records Division, Boyd Papers, Box 13 Folder 1, John Boyd, Memo to Major General Slay, ‘ACF Wing Area,’ January 23, 1975.

[10] US Marine Corps Archives and Records Division, Coram Papers, Box 6 Folder 7, Email, Thomas Christie to Robert Coram, February 5, 2001; US Marine Corps Archives and Records Division, Coram Papers, Box 6 Folder 7, Email, Ray Leopold to Robert Coram, January 31, 2001; US Marine Corps Archives and Records Division, Coram Papers, Box 5 Folder 1, Sprey Interview notes, August 2000.

[11] ‘Interview Part II: Harry Hillaker: Father of the F-16,’ Code One (July 1991), p. 9.

[12] President Gerald Ford Presidential Library, Martin R. Hoffman Papers, Box 21, folder ‘Lightweight Fighters (Navy & Air Force), 1974-75 (5),’ Memo, Robert J. Croteau, to Mr. Sullivan, through Mr. Christie, ‘F-16 DSARC II Position Recommendation,’ February 4, 1975, p. 1, 3.

[13] President Gerald Ford Presidential Library, Hoffman Papers, Box 21, folder ‘Lightweight Fighters (Navy & Air Force), 1974-75 (4),’ Chuck Myers, Memo to Hoffman, 21 February 1975.

[14] President Gerald Ford Presidential Library, Hoffman Papers, Box 21, folder ‘Lightweight Fighters (Navy & Air Force), 1974-75 (4),’ ‘F-16 (LWF/ACF) PROGRAM RESTORATION,’ Myers Memo to Hoffman, 21 February 1975, pp. 2-3.

[15] President Gerald Ford Presidential Library, Hoffman Papers, Box 21, folder ‘Lightweight Fighters (Navy & Air Force), 1974-75 (5),’ ‘Air Combat Fighter DSARC-II, General Counsel,’ 11 March 1975, ‘Air Force Response to the OSD List of Questions on ACF (F-16).’

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (September 2021)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (September 2021)

Editorial note: In this series, From Balloons to Drones highlights research resources available to researchers. Contributions range from discussions of research at various archival repositories to highlighting new publications. As part of this series, we are bringing you a monthly precis of recent articles and books published in air power history. This precis will not be exhaustive but will highlight new works published in the preceding month. Publication dates may vary around the globe and are based on those provided on the publisher’s websites. If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or via our contact page here.

Books

David Axe, Drone War Vietnam (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021)

While the use of drones is now commonplace in modern warfare, it was in its infancy during the Vietnam War, not to mention revolutionary and top secret. Drones would play an important – and today largely unheralded – role in the bloody, two-decade US air war over Vietnam and surrounding countries in the 1960s and ’70s. Drone aircraft spotted targets for manned US bombers, jammed North Vietnamese radars and scattered propaganda leaflets, among other missions.

This book explores that obscure chapter of history. DRONE WAR: VIETNAM is based on military records, official histories and published first-hand accounts from early drone operators, as well as on a close survey of existing scholarship on the topic.

In their fledgling efforts to send robots instead of human beings on the most dangerous aerial missions, US operators in South-East Asia in the 1960s and ’70s wrote the first chapter in the continuing tale of autonomous warfare.

Dmitry Degtev and Dmitry Zubov, Air Battle for Moscow 1941–1942 (Barnsley: Air World, 2021) 

In October 1941, Operation Typhoon and the battle for Moscow began. According to Hitler’s plan, it was to be the ‘last offensive’, after which nothing could stop Germany from conquering Britain and the rest of Europe – but first he had to overcome the Soviets and especially their air force.

Air Battle for Moscow is the first detailed description of one of the most vital, yet little known, air battles of the Second World War. The battle for Moscow opened with the flights of long-range reconnaissance aircraft, which photographed Moscow and the Kremlin. Then, on 22 July 1941, Operation Clara Zetkin, the Luftwaffe’s aerial assault on Moscow, began. But the Luftwaffe was opposed by the ‘Stalin’s Falcons’, the elite 6th Air Defence Corps, which defended the Soviet capital with a determination which saw bitter duels to the death and horrendous casualties on both sides.

The book presents new facts about this dramatic battle and describes in detail the actions of the aircrew on both sides. Yet this is not just the story or the air war. The authors also describe the lives of people during the war, of suppressed anti-Soviet opposition in Moscow, and of the bloodthirsty and inhuman actions of the Stalin regime. The book also tells of the fate of German pilots caught in Russian captivity, and the adventures of those who were able to survive and escape from the Russian executioners. Many myths concerning the battle are also challenged, such as the often-stated belief that Moscow’s anti-aircraft defences were the most powerful in the world and that it was the Soviets who were the finest pilots.

In this comprehensive account, details of losses, biographical outlines of the key individuals, analyses of the different aircraft and a full chronology of the battle are presented, as well as numerous exclusive photos, documents and drawings.

But it is the stories of those who fought in the Battle for Moscow that, undeniably, have the greatest impact. The harrowing tales of death and survival in conditions that are almost beyond description demonstrate just how important this conflict was to both Russia and the Third Reich and, ultimately, to the outcome of the Second World War.

Tim Jenkins, Flying Pantechnicons: The Story of the Assault Glider Trust (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021)

In the summer of 2001 the Midlands Branch of the Glider Pilot Regiment identified a significant gap in the proud heritage of British aviation. Despite numerous preserved aircraft assemblages both in the United Kingdom and abroad the fact remained that there was no complete surviving example of a publicly accessible Airspeed Horsa assault glider to be found anywhere in the world. The Assault Glider Trust was formed in order to put the situation straight once and, very much, for all.

Between 2001 and 2014 a skilled team of aviation enthusiasts worked tirelessly on the manufacture, conservation and restoration of not only the Airspeed Horsa but a wider collection of aircraft in honour of all those associated with airborne forces during The Second World war. These included an American WACO CG-4A ‘Hadrian’, C-47 Dakota and a DH82a Tiger Moth.

‘Flying Pantechnicons’ is a fascinating miscellany charting the remarkable story of The Assault Glider Trust and the determination of an entirely charitable voluntary organisation in achieving a most ambitious aviation project. The book follows their incredible journey from original idea through acquisition, restoration and the final challenge of finding permanent locations for public display and interpretation.

The development of British Airborne Forces and their military application is contextualised alongside the engineering challenges faced in the physical construction of historic airframes. Consequently, this book provides a valuable contribution to both historical interpretation and the machinations of large-scale object conservation making it ideal for aviation enthusiasts and heritage professionals alike.  

Mikhail Maslov, King of Fighters: Nikolay Polikarpov and His Aircraft Designs, Volume 2 – The Monoplane Era (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021)

In the century-long history of the conquest of the sky there have been a number of outstanding personalities. Among them is the name of designer Nikolay Polikarpov (1892-1944), who is inseparably associated with the best achievements of Russian and Soviet aviation.

His practical activity in the aircraft industry began upon graduation from the Petersburg Polytechnic Institute in 1916. Aged 25, Polikarpov was sent to the Russo-Baltic Wagon Factory (RBWF), where the four-engined Ilya Muromets bombers designed by Igor Sikorsky were being built at that time. Later, beginning in August 1918, he worked in Moscow at the Dux aircraft factory. For several years, he was engaged in improving products manufactured by the factory, and upgrading production aircraft to accommodate the available engines, equipment and materials. From 1922, Polikarpov focused his attention on fighter aircraft, creation of which was a priority for him during the following years. The first of them was the IL-400 monoplane, designated I-1 by the Air Force. The monoplane was followed by biplanes including the 2I-N1 (1925), the I-3 (1927), the D-2 (1928), and the I-6 (1929). It was specialization in fighter aircraft which, from then on, became his mission in life. At the peak of his career as a designer, Polikarpov was informally styled ‘the King of Fighters’, which was quite in line with the level of his merits and achievements.

In the 1930s, the TsKB-3 (I-15) and TsKB-12 (I-16) fighters were designed under Polikarpov’s supervision. These aircraft were the designer’s undoubtable success. They also were the main combat fighters in service with the Red Army Air Force. For the creation of the I-15 and the I-16 fighters, Polikarpov was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1935, and the Order of the Red Star a year later.

During the 1930s, Nikolay Polikarpov devised a lot of aircraft of various designs, the majority of which can be described as ‘advanced’ and ‘innovative’. In 1940, Polikarpov was granted the degree of the Doctor of Engineering and the title of the Chief Designer of the highest category. In the same year, he was awarded the title of the Hero of Socialist Labor. A year later, he became a recipient of the Stalin Prize.

This gifted Soviet engineer was destined to live only 52 years. On 30 July 1944, Nikolay Polikarpov died of a rapidly evolving cancer. To venerate his memory, the U-2 trainer has ever since been designated the Po-2 (Polikarpov-2).

This book describes all Polikarpov’s original projects, both those put into reality and unimplemented ones. It took the author many years to prepare for the creation of the book. The author studied materials on the respective topics in all Russian archives, and made use of the recollections of Polikarpov’s contemporaries, as well as publications by other researchers.

For purposes of clarity and in order to facilitate publication, the author split the book on Nikolai Polikarpov’s aircraft into two parts – the ‘Biplane Era’ and the ‘Monoplane Era’. Indeed, during the designer’s activity from 1918 through to 1932, he devoted himself predominantly to creating biplanes. For the 1920s, the biplanes were a preferable option; they were more common, more reliable, better studied, and even more desirable for the Red Army Air Force. The first design of the IL-400 (I-1) monoplane fighter appeared as early as 1923; however, it was through its novelty and unpredictability that the aircraft failed to achieve the deserved success. It should be noted that the U-2 (Po-2) and the R-5 biplanes, which were created during that period, became one of the best Polikarpov aircraft, and brought him recognition as a designer. In the 1930s, Nikolai Polikarpov’s activity reached its pinnacle. It was during that period that he created his advanced monoplanes such as the I-16, the I-17, the VIT-2, and others. He continued his fruitful and quite successful activity in the area of creating modern aircraft during the war of 1941—45 as well.

Volume 2 comprehensively covers Polikarpov’s monoplane designs.

Jerry Murland, The Schneider Trophy Air Races: The Development of Flight from 1909 to the Spitfire (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021)

When Jacques Schneider devised and inaugurated the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime race for seaplanes in 1913, no-one could have predicted the profound effect the Series would have on aircraft design and aeronautical development, not to mention world history.

Howard Pixton’s 1914 victory in a Sopwith Tabloid biplane surprisingly surpassed the performance of monoplanes and other manufacturers turned back to biplanes. During The Great War aerial combat was almost entirely conducted by biplanes, with their low landing speeds, rapid climb rates and manoeuvrability.

Post-war the Races resumed in 1920. The American Curtiss racing aircraft set the pattern for the 1920s, making way for Harold Mitchell’s Supermarines in the 1930’s. Having won the 1927 race at Venice Mitchell developed his ground-breaking aircraft into the iconic Spitfire powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. This new generation of British fighter aircraft were to play a decisive role in defeating the Luftwaffe and thwarting the Nazis’ invasion plans.

This is a fascinating account of the air race series that had a huge influence on the development of flight.

Ryan Noppen, Holland 1940: The Luftwaffe’s First Setback in the West (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021)

The German invasion of the Netherlands was meant to be a lightning-fast surgical strike, aimed at shoring up the right flank of the assault on France and Belgium. With a bold plan based largely on Luftwaffe air power, air-landing troops, and the biggest airborne assault yet seen, a Dutch surrender was expected within 24 hours.

But the Netherlands possessed Europe’s first fully integrated anti-aircraft network, as well as modern and competitive aircraft. On 10 May, the German attack was only partly successful, and the Dutch fought on for another four days. On the fifth day, with its original strategy having largely failed, the Luftwaffe resorted to terror-bombing Rotterdam to force a surrender.

Explaining the technical capabilities and campaign plans of the two sides, and charting how the battles were fought, this fascinating book reassesses this little-known part of World War II. Author Ryan K. Noppen argues that while the Holland campaign was a tactical victory for Germany, the ability of the well-prepared but outnumbered Dutch to inflict heavy losses was a warning of what would come in the Battle of Britain.

Russell Peart, From Lightnings to MiGs: A Cold War Pilot’s Operations, Test Flying & And Airspeed Record (Barnsley: Air World, 2021)

It was supposed to be just a training flight. The two Soviet-manufactured MiG 21s, each with two practice bombs and four air-to-ground rockets, were lined up on the runway in Bangladesh at the height of the Cold War, when air traffic control suddenly reported an incursion by Indian Air Force Jaguars. Though ill-equipped for combat, the two MiGs were scrambled.

One of the MiGs’ pilots was an RAF officer – Squadron Leader Russell Peart. On a seven-month loan to the Bangladeshi Air Force, Peart suddenly found himself at the centre of the simmering hostility between two neighbouring nations. By the time they reached the area that had been threatened by the Indian pilots, the Jaguars had gone. Later, when Squadron Leader Russell Peart spoke of the incident to the British High Commissioner, he was told not to shoot down any Jaguars as the Indians had still not paid for them!

Russell Peart flew many other aircraft in his varied career, including the MiG 19, and while a test pilot at Boscombe Down trialled such designs as the Tornado GR1. But it was whilst he was seconded to the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force, particularly during the so-called ‘Secret War’ in Dhofar, that he saw the most action. In that theatre the author flew some 200 operational sorties, 180 of which involved live fire, during which he was hit many times. He was also hit and wounded by a 75mm shell.

Russ Peart has written in detail of his exciting RAF career, from flying Lightnings in the Far East to winning the top prize in the International Tactical Bombing Competition against a handpicked team of United States Air Force fighter pilots and being awarded the Sultan Of Oman’s Distinguished Service Medal. Supplemented by a selection of previously unseen photographs, this uniquely original memoir throws new light on the operational flying undertaken by some RAF pilots during the tense years of the Cold War.

Kevin Wright, We Were Never There, Volume 1: CIA U-2 Operations over Europe, USSR, and the Middle East, 1956-1960 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021)

Devised by Kelly Johnson and initially operated by the CIA, the U-2 is the world’s most famous ‘spyplane.’ It flew at unprecedented altitudes and carried the most sophisticated sensors available, all in the greatest secrecy. Operating from remote locations and without markings, they often took-off before first light. Ostensibly operated by civilians flying meteorological research missions, their bold overflights took them far across Eastern Europe, the USSR, Middle and Far East. However, many details of the aircraft’s operational history remain vague and a considerable amount is still classified. Continuing national political sensitivities have meant that much about these early operations has still not been fully revealed even more than 60 years later.

This book utilises a large number of recently declassified documents to explore the remaining hidden details. It provides in-depth examinations of some missions not previously fully described and include more about Norway’s role in U-2 operations, and a breakdown of British U-2 overflights of the Middle East using recently released files from the British Ministry of Defence. It examines some of the U-2’s extensive efforts to collect intelligence on Soviet ballistic missile test launches and space programme, on ‘Fast Move’ staging operations and lots more from these missions up to May 1960.

Chapters explore some of the ground-breaking technology employed by the U-2 to photograph and eavesdrop on Soviet nuclear, military and industrial activities. These include revealing secrets of the Fili heavy bomber production plant, just five miles from the Kremlin. Overflights of the ‘Arzamas-16′ closed nuclear city, Vozrozhdeniya biological warfare centre in the Aral Sea and the mystery that was Mozhaysk. Over 90 photographs, maps and illustrations provide details of the aircraft, the cameras and electronic defensive and eavesdropping systems. The specialised nuclear fallout sampling role is explored and the ‘weather packs’ installed to substantiate the wafer-thin false cover story of the U-2’s role as a ‘meteorological research’ aircraft. Maps, most never been seen before, record the detailed routes flown by U-2 pilots deep into denied airspace to reveal the secrets of Soviet military, nuclear, scientific and industrial sites.