Winning Gold At Last

After 65 years, the nation’s first female military pilots receive their due

On March 10 hundreds of  active-duty female U.S. Air Force pilots accompanied more than 200 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) into the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center’s 580,000-square-foot marble and glass Emancipation Hall for a long-overdue ceremony. Many of the WASP veterans had donned their original World War II navy blue uniforms without letting out a seam.Read more »

From Saigon To Desert Storm

How the U. S. military reinvented itself after Vietnam

It’s hard to remember now, but the outcome of the 1991 Persian Gulf War stunned the world. Few people even at the Pentagon expected it to be as one-sided as it was. Before Operation Desert Storm, Iraq’s armed forces were widely seen as a formidable adversary, hardened by years of war against Iran and supplied with the best equipment Saddam Hussein’s oil riches could buy. Iraq had 900,000 soldiers—more than the U.S. Army—and they had had months to entrench themselves in Kuwait and southern Iraq.

Soldiers learn desert warfare at the Army’s National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California, in 1982.
 
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Airpower’s Century

Powered flight was born exactly one hundred years ago. It changed everything, of course—but most of all, it changed how we wage war.

Walter Boyne’s résumé makes for unusual reading. He is the author of 42 books and one of the few people to have had bestsellers on both the fiction and the nonfiction lists of The New York Times. A career Air Force officer who won his wings in 1951, he has flown over 5,000 hours in a score of different aircraft, from a Piper Cub to a B-IB bomber, and he is a command pilot. Boyne retired as a colonel in 1974 after 23 years of service (in 1989 he returned for a brief tour of duty to fly the B-IB).Read more »

“Aircraft 53-1876A Has Lost A Device”

How the U.S. Air Force came to drop an A-bomb on South Carolina

On the afternoon of March 11, 1958, the Gregg sisters—Helen, six, and Frances, nine—and their cousin Ella Davies, nine, were in the playhouse their father had built for them in the woods behind their house in Mars Bluff, South Carolina. About four o’clock they tired of the playhouse and moved 200 feet to the side yard. This kept them from becoming the first Americans killed by a nuclear weapon released on U.S. territory. U.S.

 
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Dr. Strangelove’s Children

Growing up on a Cold War air base in the shadow of the big one

“Do you realize there are fifteen hundred babies born a month in SAC?” says Jimmy Stewart, playing a B-36 pilot in the 1954 film Strategic Air Command . I was raised among those babies. I grew up near Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, during the Cold War, amid the presence of the Strategic Air Command and the eagle vision of Curtis E. Lemay. I spent the first few years of my life with great silver B-36 Peacemakers flying overhead. “Silver overcast,” they were wryly called.Read more »

The 36th Mission

He spent his tour of duty bombing German cities and made it home only to discover he could never leave the war behind him. Then, a lifetime later, he found a way to make peace.

My story begins in 1925. I was the youngest of nine children born to Frank and Leata Clark, factory workers in southern Wisconsin who were hit hard by the Depression. My father died when I was thirteen. In October 1943, as soon as I turned eighteen, I enlisted in the Army as a private, hoping to become a fighter pilot. Read more »

Lost In Space What Went Wrong With Nasa?

When a rocket lifts off, it lights up the launch area with a brilliant burst of flame and then trails a fiery streak across the sky as it soars toward orbit. But without careful guidance all the pyrotechnics will have been for naught. That is, in short, what happened to the National Aeronautics and Space Agency. Read more »

Return To East Anglia

It is to the U.S. Air Force what Normandy is to the U.S. Army. The monuments are harder to find, but if you’re willing to leave the main roads, you will discover a countryside still eloquent of one of the greatest military efforts in history.

From 1941 to 1945 the biggest aircraft carrier in the North Atlantic was England. Once the U.S. 8th Air Force arrived in 1942, a new field was started every three days. By war’s end there were more than 700 airfields spread across the country; the 8th had built 130 of them. Enough concrete had been slathered across cornfields and cow pastures to pave four thousand miles of highway—all in an area about the size of Vermont.Read more »

The Toughest Flying In The World

These World War II airmen had one of the most dangerous missions of all, piloting unarmed cargo planes over the Hump—the high and treacherous Himalayas

Cookie Byrd is punching my card. We’ve just met in the convention center at Harrah’s, in Reno. Cookie is the official chaplain of the Hump Pilots Association, and he hands out plastic “chaplain’s cards” at all the association’s reunions, to remind the guys of World War Il days, flew the Hump. “Hump” is GI understatement: the Hump was the Himalayas, and they flew over them to supply Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalist Army by air from India after the Japanese occupied eastern China and southeast Asia early in the war.Read more »

Why The Military Can’t Get The Figures Right

A former Department of Defense adviser—one of Robert S. McNamara’s Whiz Kids—explains why we tend to overestimate Russian strength, and why we underestimate what it will cost to defend ourselves

Twenty years ago Alain C. Enthoven was one of America’s most controversial intellectuals in the field of military affairs. He had gone to the Pentagon in 1961 to act as a civilian adviser to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. By training he was an economist, with degrees from Stanford (1952), Oxford (1954), and MIT (1956). From 1956 to 1960 he worked at the RAND Corporation, doing contract research for the Air Force. Read more »