#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. 

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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.

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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.

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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)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (January 2022)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (January 2022)

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

M. Abbott and J. Bamforth, ‘Determining the reasons for the failure of British aircraft manufacturers to invest in Australia’s industry, 1934–1941,’ Australian Economic History Review (2021). https://doi.org/10.1111/aehr.12235 

The aim of the article is to identify the factors that prevented British aircraft manufacturers from investing in Australia in the second half of the 1930s, a period when rearmament was creating demand for aircraft. The article looks at several unsuccessful proposals by British manufacturers to establish factories in Australia to build aircraft in the late 1930s, with additional attention being given to one proposal in particular. There is evidence that the Australian Government favoured the creation of an Australian-owned industry building aircraft under licence to foreign manufacturers, and it was this factor that largely deterred British investors.

Marc J. Alsina, ‘Aviation for the People: Class and State Aviation in Perón’s “New Argentina,” 1946–55,’ Technology and Culture 63, no. 1 (2022).

This article investigates the culture and politics of aviation in mid-twentieth-century Argentina under Juan D. Perón’s populist government. For enthusiasts around the world, aviation seemed poised for the long-prophesized “Air Age” transformations. Most emphasized the middle-class or elite nature of this quintessentially modern industry and its customers. Recent aviation scholarship in Europe and the United States has thus focused on affluent passengers or aircraft owners as the consumers of aviation technology. But this article reveals that Peronist Argentina implemented a massive political aviation program aimed at elevating socioeconomic conditions for the working classes. State media show that the authorities harnessed aviation as a technopolitical tool to both represent and enact their vision for a “New Argentina” by providing “dignified” work for the lower classes.

Xiaoming Zhang, ‘High-Altitude Duel: The CIA’s U-2 Spy Plane Overflights and China’s Air Defense Force, 1961-1968,’ Journal of Military History 86, no. 1 (2022).

During the 1960s, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s U-2 spy planes, piloted by Chinese Nationalist airmen from Taiwan, flew routinely over the Chinese mainland monitoring the Chinese nuclear weapons program; the overflights also demonstrated Beijing’s military weakness and inability to control its airspace. In spite of having only a few Soviet-made surface-to-air missile systems, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force was convinced that human factors, especially agility in strategy, operations, and tactics, could overcome a superior enemy. Although much remains secret, sources now available provide new insights into this secret Cold War history. Moreover, as the Chinese claimed themselves, these experiences remain valuable for China’s military response to war.

Books

Kevin Wright, We Were Never There – Volume 2: CIA U-2 Asia and Worldwide Operations 1957-1974 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2022).

Devised by Kelly Johnson and operated by the CIA from 1956-74, 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.

The second volume of We Were Never There concentrates on the period of operational missions mainly across Asia from 1957-74. The book utilises a large number of declassified documents to explore some of the remaining secrets of these missions.

The book starts by looking at some of the missions conducted by the CIA’s Detachment ‘C’ U-2s against key targets in the Soviet Far East up to Mayday 1960. It moves on to explore in detail the overflights of the Peoples Republic of China by Nationalist Chinese pilots in conjunction with the CIA. In particular, the study of Project TACKLE looks at efforts to gain intelligence on the PRC’s expansive nuclear programme from the early 1960s. This is supplemented with details of Taiwanese/CIA operations against North Korea and its Yongbon nuclear reactor. It presents target images and reveals detailed routes for many of these overflights that have not been publicly seen before.

Whilst the USAF took the lead in operations against Cuba, the book explores the earlier CIA missions against Cuba during the Bay of Pigs landings and the missile crisis. Another chapter explores the efforts to equip the U-2 for operations from US Navy aircraft carriers. Detachment G, based at Edwards AFB, had a worldwide contingency role, able to quickly deploy anywhere in the world. It undertook missions targets in Tibet, the PRC, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, British Guiana, Venezuela and elsewhere.

A section of the book examines the development of the U-2R, a major update of the original aircraft, making it larger and much more capable. Its handling characteristics and comparisons with the U-2C are explored with the help of interviews with two former USAF U-2 pilots who flew both models of the aircraft.

The final chapter looks at the return of the U-2 to Europe, in particular the UK, for training missions from the late 1960s. It covers details on operations over the middle east monitoring ceasefire arrangements between Israel and its neighbours in 1970 and 1973. It ends with the phasing out of Agency U-2 operations, the closure of projects TACKLE and JACKSON and an evaluation of the U-2’s contribution to aerial intelligence collection.

Bill Yenne, America’s Few: Marine Aces of the South Pacific (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2022).

America’s Few delves into the history of US Marine Corps aviation in World War II, following the feats of the Corps’ top-scoring aces in the skies over Guadalcanal. Marine Corps aviation began in 1915, functioning as a self-contained expeditionary force. During the interwar period, the support of USMC amphibious operations became a key element of Marine aviation doctrine, and the small force gradually grew. But in December 1941 came the rude awakening. Within hours of Pearl Harbor, heroic Marine aviators were battling the Japanese over Wake Island.

In the South Pacific, the aviators of the US Marine Corps came out of the shadows to establish themselves as an air force second to none. In the summer of 1942, when Allied airpower was cobbled together into a single unified entity – nicknamed ‘the Cactus Air Force’ – Marine Aviation dominated, and a Marine, Major General Roy Geiger, was its commander. Of the twelve Allied fighter squadrons that were part of the Cactus Air Force, eight were USMC squadrons. It was over Guadalcanal that Joe Foss emerged as a symbol of Marine aviation. As commander of VMF-121, he organized a group of fighter pilots that downed 72 enemy aircraft; Foss himself reached a score of 26. Pappy Boyington, meanwhile, had become a Marine aviator in 1935. Best known as the commander of VMF-214, he came into his own in late 1943 and eventually matched Foss’s aerial victory score.

Through the parallel stories of these two top-scoring fighter aces, as well as many other Marine aces, such as Ken Walsh (21 victories), Don Aldrich (20), John L. Smith (19), Wilbur Thomas (18.5), and Marion Carl (18.5), many of whom received the Medal of Honor, acclaimed aviation historian Bill Yenne examines the development of US Marine Corps aviation in the South Pacific.

#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)

Call for Submissions: Naval and Maritime Air Power Revisited

Call for Submissions: Naval and Maritime Air Power Revisited

In 2022, From Balloons to Drones will run a series that examines air power in the naval and maritime spheres.

From the First World War onwards, the use of air power in naval and maritime spheres has become an essential element of military operations. Indeed, even by 1918, many of the roles associated with naval air power, such as carrier airstrikes, had emerged. Similarly, the development of maritime air power was well-developed by 1918. Moreover, as the world’s major navies recognised the importance of naval air power and commissioned aircraft carriers between the First and Second World Wars, further developments and debates emerged.

2022 marks several significant anniversaries in naval and maritime air power history. In 1922, the US Navy, which became the world’s major user of carrier-based air power, launched its first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley. 2022 also marks the 80th and 40th anniversaries of two significant examples of the effective application of naval and maritime air power, the Battle of Midway and the Falklands War, respectively. As such, From Balloons to Drones is seeking submissions for a series of articles that examine the varied use of air power in the maritime sphere, broadly defined. Articles might, for example, explore the development of carrier-based air power, the use of land-based air power in support of naval and maritime operations, or the use of air power in support of amphibious operations. Possible themes to be explored might include, but are not limited to:

Strategy, Theory and Doctrine | Organisation and Policy | Roles

Operations – Kinetic and Non-Kinetic | Tactics, Training and Procedures

Strategic and Operational Effect | Technological Developments | Ethical and Moral Issues

National, International and Transnational Experiences | Personal Experiences

Memory and Memorialisation

We are looking for articles of between 500 to 4,000 words, though we will accept larger pieces, and we reserve the right to publish them in parts. Please visit our submissions page for more information on the types of articles published by From Balloons to Drones

We plan to begin running the series in February 2022, and it will continue for as long as we receive potential contributions. We welcome and encourage submissions from academics, policymakers, service personnel, and relevant professionals. We also welcome submissions written from diverse academic disciplines.

Submissions should be submitted in Word format and emailed to the email address below with ‘SUBMISSION – Naval and Maritime Air Power Revisited’ in the subject line. Also, please include a 50-100-word biography with your submission. Footnotes can be used, and please be careful to explain any jargon. If you are not sure if your idea fits our requirements, then please email us with ‘POTENTIAL SUBMISSION – Naval and Maritime Air Power Revisited’ in the subject line to discuss.

If you are interested in contributing, please email our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or contact us via our contact page here.

Header image: The Japanese aircraft carrier IJS Hiryu maneuvers to avoid bombs dropped by USAAF Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. (Source: Wikimedia)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (December 2021)

#ResearchResources – Recent Articles and Books (December 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

Donald Bishop and Erik R. Limpaecher, ‘Looking Bakc from the Age of ISR: US Observation Balloons in the First World War,’ Air Power History 68, no. 3 (2021).

No abstract provided.

Patrick Luiz Sullivan De Oliveira, ‘Transforming a Brazilian aeronaut into a French hero: Celebrity, spectacle, and technological cosmopolitanism in the turn-of-the-century Atlantic,’ Past & Present (2021). https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gtab011

This article explains how the Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont, who at the turn of the twentieth century became the first global celebrity aeronaut, operated as a symbol of ‘technological cosmopolitanism’ — a world view that ostensibly promoted a vision of global unity through technology-enabled exchanges while simultaneously reproducing a core-periphery imagined geography that threatened to erase marginalized populations. Technological cosmopolitanism fitted snugly within the rubric of the Third Republic’s aspiring universalism, which assumed that France offered a model to be emulated around the world, but it was not hegemonic. If for the French appropriating Santos-Dumont meant safeguarding France’s leadership in aeronautics and assuaging their claims of universality, for Brazilians the elision was marked by ambiguity. Brazil’s First Republic hungered for heroes, and authorities saw Santos-Dumont as a symbol of modernity that showed that its place in world history was more than peripheral, even though that very vision was shaped by a Paris-centric world view. But marginalized Afro-Brazilians also found ways to appropriate a white ‘Frenchified’ Brazilian and reimagine their place in a cosmopolitan order. Technological cosmopolitanism evoked a world united by transportation, communication and exchange, but imagining who got to construct and partake in that community was a process continuously marked by erasures and reinsertions.

A. Garcia, ‘The South African Air Force in Korea: an evaluation of 2 Squadron’s first combat engagement, 19 November until 2 December 1950,’ Historia 66, no. 2 (2021).

South African participation in the Korean War (1950–1953) in direct support of an international military offensive led by the United States of America demonstrated the National Party administration’s commitment to opposing Communism. This article details how the deployment of South African Air Force 2 Squadron achieved the strategic objectives of the South African government in supporting the anti-communist United States-led United Nations coalition in the Korean War. It evaluates the performance of South Africa’s Air Force in their first operational test since the Second World War. The combat operations discussed under the scope of this article include the first tactical engagement of 2 Squadron in support of the initial advance (19 November to 21 December) 1950 and then later, the retreat of the United Nations force.

William Head, ‘The Berlin Airlift: First Test of the U.S. Air Force,’ Air Power History 68, no. 3 (2021).

No abstract provided.

N.R. Jenzen-Jones and Jack Shanley, ‘Precision Strike,’ The RUSI Journal (2021) DOI: 10.1080/03071847.2021.2016208

This article examines the development of precision guided munitions (PGMs) from the earliest proto-PGMs of the late 18th century to the miniaturised, semi-autonomous forms in present service. N R Jenzen-Jones and Jack Shanley trace the history of these revolutionary weapons and examine how their battlefield roles and real-world use cases have evolved over time.

T.B. Kwan, ‘“The effects of our bombing efforts”: Allied Strategic Bombing of the Japanese Occupied Territories during World War II,’ Air Power History 68, no. 3 (2021).

No abstract provided.

Wyatt Lake, ‘Origins of American Close Air Support,’ Air Power History 68, no. 3 (2021).

No abstract provided.

John G. Terino Jr., ‘Cultivating Future Airpower Strategists: On “Developing Twenty-First-Century Airpower Strategists”,’ Strategic Studies Quarterly 15, no. 4 (2021).

In 2008, Major General R. Michael Worden forecast specific challenges for airpower strategists including emerging technology, transnational terrorist organizations, an explosion of information power, budgets, and resourcing. His predictions have borne out in what the Air Force faces today, and Air University is responding, providing the next generation of airpower strategists.

Joseph B. Piroch and Daniel A. Connelly, ‘Six Steps to the Effective Use of Airpower: On “The Drawdown Asymmetry: Why Ground Forces Will Depart Iraq but Air Forces Will Stay”,’ Strategic Studies Quarterly 15, no. 4 (2021).

Then-Lieutenant Colonel Clinton S. Hinote’s 2008 analysis of the Iraq drawdown and the continued role of airpower in that conflict serves as a foundation for six steps to the effective use of airpower today.

Thomas Wildenberg, ‘Col. Thomas L Thurlow and the Development of the A-10 Sextant,’ Air Power History 68, no. 3 (2021).

No abstract provided.

Books

Phil Haun, Colin Jackson, and Tim Schultz (eds.), Air Power in the Age of Primacy: Air Warfare since the Cold War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).

Since the end of the Cold War the United States and other major powers have wielded their air forces against much weaker state and non-state actors. In this age of primacy, air wars have been contests between unequals and characterized by asymmetries of power, interest, and technology.  This volume examines ten contemporary wars where air power played a major and at times decisive role. Its chapters explore the evolving use of unmanned aircraft against global terrorist organizations as well as more conventional air conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and against ISIS. Air superiority could be assumed in this unique and brief period where the international system was largely absent great power competition. However, the reliable and unchallenged employment of a spectrum of manned and unmanned technologies permitted in the age of primacy may not prove effective in future conflicts.

Mark Lardas, Truk 1944–45: The Destruction of Japan’s Central Pacific Bastion (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021).

A fully illustrated history of how the US Navy destroyed Truk, the greatest Japanese naval and air base in the Pacific, with Operation Hailstone, and how B-29 units and the carriers of the British Pacific Fleet kept the base suppressed until VJ-Day.

In early 1944, the island base of Truk was a Japanese Pearl Harbor; a powerful naval and air base that needed to be neutralized before the Allies could fight their way any further towards Tokyo. But Truk was also the most heavily defended naval base outside the Japanese Home Islands and an Allied invasion would be costly. Long-range bombing against Truk intact would be a massacre so a plan was conceived to neutralize it through a series of massive naval raids led by the growing US carrier fleet. Operation Hailstone was one of the most famous operations ever undertaken by American carriers in the Pacific.

This book examines the rise and fall of Truk as a Japanese bastion and explains how in two huge raids, American carrier-based aircraft reduced it to irrelevance. Also covered is the little-known story of how the USAAF used the ravaged base as a live-fire training ground for its new B-29s — whose bombing raids ensured Truk could not be reactivated by the Japanese. The pressure on Truk was kept up right through 1945 when it was also used as a target for the 509th Composite Squadron to practise dropping atomic bombs and by the British Pacific Fleet to hone its pilots’ combat skills prior to the invasion of Japan.

David Nicolle and Gabr Ali Gabr, Air Power and the Arab World – Volume 5: The Arab Air Forces and the Road to War 1936-1939 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021).

The years immediately prior to the outbreak of the Second World War saw the earliest and the more recently established Arab Air Forces attempting to play a role on the regional if not yet on the world stage for the first time. It was a period when those Arab states which had real or merely theoretical independence were more or less allied with European countries that were gearing up to face the growing Fascist and Nazi threats. Unfortunately, these anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi countries were themselves the imperial powers, France and the United Kingdom, which were still seeking to maintain their domination of the greater part of the Arab World. To say that this complicated the situation, and strained the loyalties of the men of the newly emergent Arab air forces would be an understatement.

Volume 5 of the Air Power and the Arab World series, therefore, seeks to shed light on a difficult and widely misunderstood time.  It draws upon decades of research, including previously unpublished interviews with men now dead, archive sources than have never before been translated into a European language, and material which, though available in obscure Arabic publications, has been almost entirely neglected by aviation historians. 

This volume is richly illustrated with specially commissioned colour artworks illustrating the aircraft flown by the air forces in the Arab world during this dynamic period of time.

#DesertStorm30 – On the Brink of Combat: The Women Aviators of DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM

#DesertStorm30 – On the Brink of Combat: The Women Aviators of DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM

By Eileen Bjorkman

At one minute past midnight on 17 January 1991, US Air Force Major Kathy Rambo-Cosand prepared to take off in a Lockheed C-141 Starlifter from Ramstein Air Base, Germany. It was snowing, and her aircraft was packed with 44,000 pounds of cluster bombs headed for Saudi Arabia. The aircraft was severely overweight: she was authorised to fly at ‘emergency war weights.’ If the C-141 lost an engine on take-off from Ramstein’s short runway, they would most likely crash. She worried about what the cluster bombs might do if that happened. Moreover, an accident was a realistic possibility: A Lockheed C-5 Galaxy had crashed, taking off from Ramstein just a few months earlier, killing 13 of the 17 people on board.

As Rambo-Cosand and her crew waited for their take-off clearance, a call came on the radio: “All missions are cancelled.” The airspace over Saudi Arabia had been shut down as coalition fighters and bombers kicked off Operation DESERT STORM, the coalition effort to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Rambo-Cosand and her crew waited in their aircraft as planners decided what to do. Finally, at 2:30 a.m., she received the call to take off. With the C-5 crash and the enormity of her cargo weighing heavily on her, Rambo-Cosand pulled onto the runway and lumbered into the sky. Unfortunately, the most stressful take off of her career was for naught: when they arrived over Italy, they were turned back to Ramstein.[1]

At that point, Rambo-Cosand had been flying in and out of Saudi Arabia for the past four months, and it would be many more months before she finally returned home to her family. Indeed, the rapid build-up, sustainment, and eventual employment of forces in the Middle East as part of Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM was only possible because of support aircraft that did everything from hauling cargo to communications jamming.[2] Moreover, it was these aircraft that women like Rambo-Cosand flew since they were not allowed to fly in combat; a provision within the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act passed by Congress in 1948 prohibited that. This article explores the experience of some of those women during DESERT SHIELD/STORM and details some of the challenges faced by US females operating in a combat environment.

Wells
Major Stephanie Wells and her C-5 crew delivering tanks to Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia on 19 January 1991 (Source: Stephanie Wells)

The Women Aviators of Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM

Despite the combat restrictions, women soon arrived in Saudi Arabia. Some of the first women were pilots, like US Army Captain Victoria Calhoun, a Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who deployed on 9 August, two days after Operation DESERT SHIELD began in response to the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. Calhoun had asked to be stationed at Fort Bragg the previous year because she figured if any action happened, it would happen there. She was right, but shortly after arriving, her unit deployed to support the 1989 invasion of Panama, and her operations officer would not let her go, replacing her with a less-experienced male pilot. A year later, she feared the same thing might happen. However, when someone questioned her battalion commander about whether women would deploy to Saudi Arabia, he said, “They have to go. If they don’t go, we’re not mission capable as a unit!”

Calhoun arrived at Dhahran Air Base with an advance party to conduct reconnaissance and prepare the base for more arrivals. At first, there was not much flying for the Chinooks, mainly because the sand in Saudi Arabia caused maintenance nightmares. The missions Calhoun flew transported parts and supplies around to other units, a mission nicknamed “Desert Express.”[3]

Reserve units began activating on 24 August. All C-5 reserve squadrons were activated as the massive cargo aircraft hauled most of the Army’s tanks and larger helicopters to the theatre. Major Stephanie Wells, a C-5 pilot from Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, was activated on 29 August. She was thrilled to be part of the team: when she had initially called her unit on 6 August to inquire about deploying, she was told that women would not be allowed to go.[4] Nevertheless, Wells was soon flying C-5s all over the world. At first, she never knew where she would be going on any given day, but then things settled down, and she began flying missions out of Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.[5]

Technical Sergeant Donna Davis, a C-5 flight engineer in a reserve unit at Travis Air Force Base, California, soon wound up in Germany. When a crew landed, after eight hours of crew rest, Davis says they were normally assigned to an aircraft brought in by another crew. The crews stopped to rest, but the aeroplane kept going. The crews often pulled 24-hour shifts before going back into crew rest, and Davis found it hard to sleep more than about four hours at a time. She was not alone; most of the crews were exhausted all the time and, as she says, “Thank goodness for autopilot.”[6]

Wells 2
Major Stephanie Wells in the cockpit of a C-5 at the beginning of Operation DESERT STORM. (Source: Stephanie Wells)

As the initial troops and equipment flowed to Saudi Arabia, Rambo-Cosand, who was in a reserve unit at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, debated what to do. She had met her husband when she had been one of the first ten women to attend US Air Force pilot training in 1976, and they had just settled with their two children into new quarters after a move to Honduras. She hated to leave her 2-year-old and 7-year-old at home, but she decided to volunteer to fly some missions, thinking that if enough reservists volunteered, her unit would not be activated. However, before she could arrive to begin her volunteer tour, her unit was activated on 9 September. Rambo-Cosand moved heaven and earth to get to McGuire in less than 24 hours, begging the US Embassy to get her on a 6:00 a.m. flight out of Honduras the following day. Even living overseas, she beat several airline pilots in her squadron to McGuire.

After arriving at McGuire, Rambo-Cosand flew first to Zaragoza, Spain, and then began flying shuttles to Saudi Arabia. Working 30-hour days, she and her crew flew 150 hours in 16 days compared to the normal 75 hours they might fly in a month. She recalls, “We were like zombies.” But like most pilots, Rambo-Cosand enjoyed what she was doing. She found aeromedical evacuation flights of wounded personnel to be the most special. Whenever she carried patients, she always went back to talk to them and hold their hand before returning to the cockpit, hoping they would make it.

By early October, enough forces were in place to defend Saudi Arabia should the Iraqis attack. An additional a build-up of forces began in early November to prepare for an offensive operation.[7] In November, the United Nations Security Council also set a deadline for Iraq to withdraw forces by 15 January 1991. The deadline passed, and the air war started on 17 January.

On the first day of the war, US Air Force Captain Sheila Chewing helped two McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle fighter pilots shoot down two Iraqi Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrums. She was a weapons controller onboard a Boeing E-3 Sentry, an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft distinguished by a gigantic disc-shaped radar antenna mounted on top of the aircraft and used for tracking both friendly and enemy aircraft. She spotted the MiG-29s on her radar screen onboard the AWACS and then directed the F-15 pilots until their own radars could track the enemy aircraft and launch missiles at them. Chewing later said, “When that happened [bringing down an enemy plane], we really felt like we were doing our jobs.”[8]

While airlift crews shuttled endlessly among the US, Europe, and the Middle East, some women who flew refuelling tankers and other support aircraft settled at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Air Force Captain Christina Vance Halli, a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker pilot, was happy to deploy to support DESERT STORM. She was tired of being at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, where she mostly sat alert with bomber crews and rarely flew. Instead, she and the rest of her crew flew as passengers to get to Incirlik. During a stop in Greece, it was obvious they were getting closer to the action: a man wearing a flak jacket met them at the aircraft and instructed them to low crawl across the ramp to his vehicle.

The aircraft that launched from Incirlik did so as part of a large strike package of tankers, communications jammers (EC-130s), tactical reconnaissance aircraft (RF-4Cs) and the fighter aircraft that would be striking targets deep into Iraq. For most missions, the slower Lockheed EC-130s launched first to get into position to provide jamming protection for the striking aircraft. At the same time or shortly after, McDonnell Douglas RF-4C Phantom aircraft took off and finally, the KC-135s departed, followed by the striking aircraft. A typical strike package had three to five tankers, each servicing four to eight fighters. The refuelling’s were a bit of an adventure, done in radio silence and mostly at night, but the skill of all crews involved prevented any mishaps. The fighters followed the tankers to Iraq’s northern border, refuelling as needed and getting a top-off before entering Iraq. At that point, the tankers did a U-turn and held in orbit, waiting for the strikers to return.[9]

In the meantime, the EC-130s orbited nearby to provide jamming support. Captain Amy Hermes Smellie was an EC-130 co-pilot. She recalls sometimes seeing anti-aircraft artillery in the distance as the strikers reached their targets; on other occasions, she wore night vision goggles look for targets. Unlike the other support aircraft that might carry one or two women aviators on a mission, the EC-130s were often packed with women linguists in the back of the aeroplane. Smellie says the linguists were the driving factor in EC-130s; the Air Force might have been able to fly EC-130 missions without women pilots, but they did not have enough male linguists.[10]

The ground campaign began on early 24 February. That day Major Marie Rossi, the company commander of one of Calhoun’s sister units, appeared on CNN, saying, “[T]his is the moment that everybody trains for – that I’ve trained for – so I feel ready to meet the challenge.”[11] To prepare for the assault, coalition ground forces had quietly moved hundreds of miles to the west, including Calhoun’s CH-47 unit, which moved from Dhahran to Rafha. Instead of flying to Rafha, Calhoun was put in charge of a convoy for the move. However, once at Rafha, she got in on the action. On the second day of the ground war, she flew Chinook missions to move elements of the US 101st Airborne Division to Forward Operating Base Cobra, 93 miles inside Iraq, to provide a logistics base for the 101st as they conducted their assault. Overall, Calhoun flew 22 hours of combat, flying into Iraq and coming within 90 miles of Baghdad.[12]

DS Map
Map depicting Army unit locations at Dhahran and Rafha; FOB Cobra is north of Rafha. (Source: Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress)

Offensive operations ended at 08:00 on 28 February, but that did not stop the danger. Marie Rossi, the pilot who had appeared on CNN, died on 1 March, the day after the cease-fire, when her helicopter hit an unlit radio tower.

US Navy women did not get as many opportunities to fly during the war as their Air Force and Army counterparts. A handful of women, mostly in helicopter combat support squadrons, carried personnel and equipment around the Persian Gulf and flew other support missions, including search and rescue.[13] Lieutenant Commander Lucy Young, who had qualified to fly Douglas A-4 Skyhawk strike aircraft and was the US Navy’s first female strike instructor, nevertheless was not allowed to fly in combat. By 1991, she had left the Navy and was in a reserve unit in Atlanta, flying McDonnell Douglas C-9s, a small cargo aircraft like the commercial DC-9. Young’s squadron was never activated, but she spent three weeks flying people and cargo around the Middle East during the build-up in September 1991 while male strike pilots she had trained headed for the war on aircraft carriers.[14]

Captain Peggy Phillips, a C-141 pilot in the reserves at McChord Air Force Base, Washington, says that the women transport pilots were the ‘first in and last out’ of the theatre. This was especially true of the reservists; many were activated in August or September of 1990 and not deactivated until May or June 1991. Another aspect of being an airlifter was that the crews received no parades or big welcomes when they returned home like many of the combat units, who deployed and returned as a group. Instead, the airlifters dribbled over and back, activating, and deactivating on individual timelines. Phillips had a two-day notice to deactivate. She quietly went home with no fanfare.[15]

The Dangers faced by Female Aviators

Going up against the fourth largest army in the world, planners expected the overall battle to be short but potentially very bloody, with as many as 30,000 casualties.[16] Given that the all-volunteer force in place since the mid-1970s was 15% female, at least some of those casualties were expected to be women.

Although the aircraft flown by women aviators largely kept them away from enemy fire, the missions weren’t risk-free. Tankers occasionally flew over hostile territory with their strike package. For example, Captain Ann Weaver Worster reportedly flew her tanker 250 miles inside Iraq on one mission.[17] In another instance, an SA-8 surface-to-air missile exploded above a KC-135 flying out of Incirlik.[18]

Once the Iraqis started launching SCUD missiles during Desert Storm, the transport and other support crews were vulnerable when they landed in Saudi Arabia. For example, Rambo-Cosand received word of a ‘black flag’ SCUD alert during one flight, and the crew donned their chemical warfare gear before landing. Once on the ground, the crew dashed to a bunker in their gear, where they stayed for several hours until their aircraft could be refuelled and reloaded for their return flight.[19]

In addition to dealing with hostile forces, the women aviators also dealt with a hostile environment from their hosts. For example, Saudi ground crews refused to take fuel orders from women crewmembers and women who stayed in Saudi Arabia overnight had to cover up if they wanted to go off base.[20]

Family Issues

Naysayers had predicted that women would become pregnant to avoid going to war. Some pregnant women could not deploy, but it was not only women who wanted to stay home for family reasons. Halli, the KC-135 pilot, recalled that her navigator did not want to deploy because his wife was pregnant; he was replaced with another navigator.[21]

During their deployments, men and women left behind families, including small children. For example, C-5 flight engineer Donna Davis left her son with her parents, although she made it home for Christmas.[22] Unlike crewmembers who lived near McGuire, Rambo-Cosand found it difficult to get home whenever she had a few extra days in the US, although she did make it back to her family in Honduras for a few days about every six weeks.[23] Sometimes childcare took creative juggling. For example, C-141 pilot Peggy Phillips had three small children and an airline pilot husband who was also an activated reservist. The couple served in the same unit at McChord, and their commander allowed them to work their schedules so that while one was flying on a trip, the other worked in the squadron.[24]

Conclusion – An Opportunity for Change

Carolyn Becraft, a significant player in the fight to overturn the archaic combat exclusion law, says activating the reserves had a huge impact on the public’s acceptance of women going into hostile territory. Unit activations turned into local stories, and people saw their neighbours, both men and women, heading to war.[25]

The women aviators in Desert Shield and Desert Storm and other women who served in the Middle East, collectively proved they could participate in combat. After legislation and a Presidential Commission to further study the issue, women aviators finally earned the right to fly combat aircraft on 28 April 1993. However, for most women who flew in Desert Storm, the change came too late in their careers. Tanker pilot Christina Vance Halli left the Air Force and applied to fly General Dynamics F-16s at the Air National Guard unit in Fresno, California. The unit seemed receptive, allowing her to go through a process of visits and interviews before turning her down. Their reason? She did not have any fighter experience.[26]

Eileen A. Bjorkman is a former flight test engineer in the USAF with more than thirty-five years of experience and over 700 hours in the cockpits of F-4s, F-16s, C-130s, and C-141s. Her most recent book is Unforgotten in the Gulf of Tonkin: A Story of the U.S. Military’s Commitment to Leave No One Behind (2020) She is also the author of The Propeller under the Bed: A Personal History of Homebuilt Aircraft and has published articles in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space MagazineAviation HistorySport Aviation, the Everett Daily Herald, and the Herald Business Journal.

Header image: Members of the US.’ Air Force disembark from a Lockheed C-141B Starlifter aircraft upon their arrival in support of Operation DESERT SHIELD. This is the type of aircraft flown by Major Kathy Rambo-Cosand and Captain Peggy Phillips as mentioned in this article. (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] Interview with Kathy Rambo-Cosand, 21 April 2021.

[2] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Defense, 1992), p. 45

[3] Interview with Victoria Calhoun, 2 May 2021.

[4] Jeanne Holm, Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution, Revised Edition (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1993), p. 450.

[5] Interview with Stephanie Wells, 29 April 2021.

[6] Interview with Donna Davis, 22 April 2021.

[7] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. 83

[8] Joby Warrick, ‘AWACS Proves to be Gulf ‘Trump Card,” Air Force Times, 26 March 1991, p. 11, as quoted in Holm, Women in the Military, p. 452.

[9] Interview with Christina Vance Halli, 30 April 2021.

[10] Interview with Amy Hermes Smellie, 21 April 2021.

[11] Holm, Women in the Military, p. 460.

[12] Calhoun interview.

[13] Jean Ebbert and Marie-Beth Hall, Crossed Currents: Navy Women from WWI to Tailhook (McClean, VA: Brassey’s, 1993), p. 264.

[14] Interview with Lucy Young, 29 April 2021.

[15] Interview with Peggy Phillips, 2 May 2021.

[16] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, p. ii; Richard P. Hallion, Storm over Iraq: Air Power and the Gulf War (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992), pp. 2-3.

[17] Holm, Women in the Military, p. 449.

[18] Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, pp. 234-235

[19] Rambo-Cosand interview.

[20] Multiple women mentioned these issues to me during interviews.

[21] Halli interview.

[22] Davis interview.

[23] Rambo-Cosand interview.

[24] Phillips’ interview.

[25] Interview with Carolyn Becraft, 21 April 2021.

[26] Halli interview.