Flyboys and Their Machines: the United States Air Force

The first use of “air craft” in American warfare was lighter-than-air balloons during the Civil War. Begging your pardon, I’m going to skip to the beginning of powered aircraft in American airwar for this article. If you think you have a pretty good idea of the origin and history of the US Air Force, as I thought I did, you may be in for some surprises!

You will note some overlap between branches in most of these links. The different branches of the American military tend to fight each other only when on leave in bars, but present a united front in warfare. 😀 😀

Orville Wright joins the Air Force!

That article says that Wilbur Wright joined the infantry. LOL! That sounds strangely like a vote of “no confidence” in the aircraft he helped build!

The original “1909 Wright Military Flyer” is now in the Smithsonian Institute Air And Space exhibit. For the Army trials, its minimum mandated “cross-country” flight was only ten miles! Picture yourself going to war, not just up in the air, in one of these things:
Or, moving along to “modern” airwar, go to this link and blow your mind. As the link name tells us, these are official US government archives. Just dry and dusty official records, not the stories of the planes and the men who flew them. But just this brief excerpt should give you an idea of how convoluted and lengthy the path was from the very beginning of American air war to our current world-leading US Air Force:


1917-44 History: Air Service established by EO 3066, March 19, 1919, consolidating Division of Military Aeronautics and Bureau of Aircraft Production. Confirmed as a combat arm by the National Defense Act (41 Stat. 759), June 4, 1920. Name changed to Air Corps by the Air Corps Act (44 Stat. 780), July 2, 1926. Responsibility for unit training and tactical air employment transferred to General Headquarters Air Force, established March 1935. GHQAF renamed Air Force Combat Command and placed with Air Corps under newly established Army Air Forces by revision to Army Regulation 95-5, June 20, 1941. AFCC and Office of the Chief of the Air Corps abolished in the general reorganization of the army, effective March 9, 1942, by Circular 59, War Department, March 2, 1942, implementing EO 9082, February 28, 1942. Air Corps formally abolished by transfer of functions to newly established United States Air Force pursuant to the National Security Act of 1947 (61 Stat. 502), July 26, 1947. SEE 18.1.

If we had thorough investigative records and Steven Spielberg at our disposal, I guarantee the stories from just that period of air-war and the bureaucratic wars thereof would give us enough dramatic movies to last for years. I hope that God has those events on video. I mean, we have to do something on weekends, even in Heaven! 😀

Here are a few of those stories, for those of you who can’t wait until you’re inside Heaven’s gates:

Former Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael ‘Buzz’ Moseley calls them ‘the founding fathers of American combat aviation,’ yet few Americans know their names. The 38 pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille, who flew for France beginning in 1916, before the United States entered World War I, created a culture that influences combat pilots today, Moseley says. They helped shape the U.S. Army Air Service when it was formed in 1918. ‘All the way up to the Army Air Forces and the U.S. Air Force,’ says Moseley. ‘Having thought about this a lot and having lived inside that world for 40 years, I would say [Air Force culture] goes right back to those guys who decided in the spring of ’16 that this would be a good idea.’ ”

And General Moseley should know. He’s been there and done that himself:

” ‘The Escadrille reminds me a lot of fighter squadrons I’ve been in,’ says McPeak, who flew thousands of fighter sorties and commanded a squadron of Misty forward air controllers, a hard-charging group who flew hazardous missions in Vietnam. ‘The cast of characters is quite colorful—the good and the bad, the skilled and the unskilled, the lucky and the unlucky. It was a very, very risky business. So it attracted some weird and colorful people, which is true even today.’ ”

Those who would deny American citizens the right to own every type of weapon and military machine the US military has should consider that when William Thaw, one of the Lafayatte Escadrille, decided to join the French Air Force, his father bought him a military aircraft, the Curtiss hydroaeroplane, for him to learn to fly in. Thaw came from one of the 100 wealthiest families in the United States. (During her lifetime, Thaw’s grandmother donated $6 million to charity.) You can read more amazing and fascinating information about these “founding fathers of American combat aviation” in their commander’s book.

As always in any new field, there was a price to be paid. The price was high for aviators as well as for their infantry counterparts. Today’s warriors can relate to this. The grim, heart-wrenching stories of a few of these World War One airmen are told at this link

Excerpt: “The Dark Side of Glory”

Though aviation was in its infancy, little time had been wasted in fitting the day’s frail airplanes of spruce and canvas with machine guns, giving birth to a new phenomenon: aerial combat. Unlike the antiquated thinking that had led to the stalemate of trench warfare, aerial warfare was unfettered by old ideas. It was created in the moment, and pilots tested their ideas using their hides as collateral. If a new tactic worked, a new maneuver was born; if it didn’t, the man conceiving it often died. Those who excelled at the new type of warfare gave birth to a new term: ace. … Combat stress among fliers, known then as “aero-neurosis,” became more common as the war progressed. Psychological stress, combined with the little-understood effects of high-altitude flying such as hypoxia, often resulted in airmen being removed from duty and sent to one of many convalescent hospitals that had popped up across the French and British countryside … The field of combat aviation psychiatry evolved symbiotically with the war. The diagnosis and treatment of both ground and aerial disorders was skewed toward quickly returning the men to the trenches and cockpits.”

During World War 2, the aircraft became much faster, higher flyers, armed with increasingly serious weaponry. Some of us had family members who flew these birds, or were mechanics who kept them flying. I can remember hearing a few at airshows in Florida when I was a kid. The sound of those massively powerful propeller-driven aircraft is still magical to me!

One of my uncles, Robert J. Mathieson Jr., was bombardier-navigator on a B-24 that flew missions over Japan. On one mission, the internal communications failed, and Bombardier-Navigator Mathieson became the communications system for his aircraft, running back and forth in the aircraft – while under attack from a number of Japanese Zero fighter planes. He made it home alive after the war, I am glad to say.

I like the names of these planes and the all-American attitudes they convey: Flying Fortress! Liberator! And my all-time favorite bomber, the post-WW2 Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. The positive self-image and confidence they project is part of our heritage. It’s something to be cherished. It’s no coincidence that for a hundred years and more, the world’s last resort when dealing with international bullies has been the military of the United States of America.

“Calamity Jane”  Stratofortress at Mobile Bay, Alabama 

Air power was an important factor in staying “Number One”. In warfare, another word for “Number Two” is “conquered”. If war is hell, losing a war is worse. Thank God that America had the manpower, the brainpower, the willpower, and the resources to shoulder the task of saving the free world twice in forty-five years.

Regardless of the machines, it’s the men who do the fighting and the dying. Here are a few of those pilots’ stories, beginning with a man who claims to have flown the last combat mission of WW2:

I was workin’ in a steel mill. I was trying to save up enough money for food and housing and books for a scholarship that I had to Ryder College … at 12:00 or 12:30 on December 7th, I heard the radio about this attack on Pearl Harbor, and I decided at that moment that I was gonna fly fighter planes against the Japanese...”

From The pilot of a Martin B-26 Marauder:

The build-up for D-Day was gradual but intense; that’s what we were there for – to put an Army on the continent and defeat Germany. We first knew it was for real with the painting of invasion stripes on our planes. The Germans had captured and flew a number of allied aircraft and their use on D-Day or shortly thereafter could cause great havoc and confusion. Therefore, Eisenhower decreed that all Allied aircraft the day before D-Day were to be painted with broad black and white stripes on each wing for rapid identification of Allied aircraft. When we left the briefing room, it was pitch dark and a heavy rain storm was in progress … Our close formation practice paid off and we broke out of the cloud intact but into complete chaos … Not far from us two B-26s collided and exploded in a huge ball of fire …”

Korea saw the introduction of jet fighters into the American Air Force. We weren’t the first, and our 1st-generation jet fighters weren’t the best, but we learned and overcame.
Strategy, resources, metallurgy, thinking ahead, all played a part in who won and who lost.

Vietnam-era aircraft:

Vietnam helicopter pilot training: granted, these are Army birds and flyboys, but they were airmen and I think they fit in here:

We were all young and crazy then…”

More from that link: “… the Primary Helicopter Center at Fort Wolters, Texas … was an essential part of the pressure cooker process that transformed anybody who qualified—from teenagers to grizzled combat officers—into world-class helicopter pilots.

Vietnam helicopter war:

” ‘You were right in the enemy’s face with a helicopter and had to know what you were doing,’ recalls warrant officer Clyde Romero of his 1,100 hours flying scout missions over South Vietnam in 1971. ‘It’s like a street cop going into a bad neighborhood. You can have all the guns, vests, and radios you want, but you need street smarts or you’re going to be dead within an hour.’ ”

GENERATIONS OF JET FIGHTERS: thru the 5th (latest) generation:

The earliest jet fighters looked a lot like the propeller-driven ‘pursuit’ aircraft used in World War Two, such as the P-51 Mustang. Their wings extended straight out from the fuselage, and although they were faster than planes with piston-driven engines, they couldn’t break the sound barrier (768 mph). But this first generation began giving way to greater speeds with North American Aviation’s F-86 Sabre which had swept-back wings to reduce drag and was arguably the best fighter used by the U.S. in the Korean War.”

But the 5th generation is beginning to look like Star Wars Next Generation. I’m not kidding. Check it out at that link.

The Mideast wars have produced so much material and so many heroes that I can only list a few links for those who want to investigate further. Suffice it to say that no matter which branch of service, American technology and American warriors are an astounding, awesome, shattering combination:

“… an A-10 Warthog pilot involved in the attacks that night told the following to reporters: ‘There’s just nothing like it. It’s the biggest Fourth of July show you’ve ever seen, and to see those tanks just go ‘boom,’ and more stuff just keep spewing out of them and shells flying out to the ground, they just became white hot. It’s wonderful … Along a 30 mile stretch of [Highway 8, to the east, near the Kuwaiti coastline] US Army AH-64 Apache helicopters and artillery made the road their killing field. Hundreds of vehicles, including some of Hussein’s best tanks and armored personnel carriers, were pummeled into unrecognizable heaps of mangled steel. ”

America’s involvement in the Mideast started a long time ago…

Lebanon, dateline July 15, 1958:

Sixty years ago this month, the United States first sent combat troops into the Middle East. The July 1958 Marine landing in Beirut, Lebanon thus began the era of America’s now seemingly endless wars in the region.”

That awesome, shattering combination is fortunate indeed, because the Mideast isn’t going to cool off any time soon:

Syria, dateline August 28, 2017:

Renken, a squadron commander, developed his Air Force career in the shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda. He was training as a pilot when suicide hijackers flew into the World Trade Center and has since deployed over and over again to the Middle East.”

American aircraft carrier enters Persian Gulf, dateline December 22, 2018:

“… officials in Tehran have hinted that Iran will disrupt other countries’ shipments through the Gulf if exports are affected.” Are you old enough to remember the gas lines in 1973?

May the Holy One of Israel protect our warriors in the air and give them victory. In Jesus’ holy name, amen.

Until they all come home. Have a blessed and safe RED Friday all.

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