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The United States Airforce

By Herbert Mason

Less than seventy years after Orville Wright’s plane fell apart during an Army demonstration, the United States Air Force, with its nuclear capability, has developed into the nation’s most powerful political and military weapon. Here is the complete story of this amazing technological metamorphosis.

The slip-shod, hair-raising first few years were a curious mixture of comedy and drama. Under the stress of flights at 48 m.p.h., propellers fell off, wings ripped in half, and telephone poles were a lethal threat to every pilot. In 1916, Pancho Villa was never as safe as when the First Provisional Aero Division crashed its way through Mexico, looking for him after he had raided a Colorado town.

The two world wars, of course, and the years between them, firmly established the value of an efficient air force.

This powerful emergence began with Woodrow Wilson’s commitment to supply the Allied cause with 22,600 planes, fewer than 1,000 of which ever reached the front.

During the interim years, the flamboyant prominence of Billy Mitchell, Benny Foulois, and others, helped to promote the fledgling Air Corps despite furious military, public, and congressional opposition.

Finally, the awesome German Luftwaffe forced Franklin D. Roosevelt to call for a crash development program. With only a dozen B-17 bombers at the time of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, the United States would end World War II with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This advent of nuclear capability destines the Air Force to controversy for the rest of its days.

The author has a fund of fascinating truth-is-stranger-than-fiction material (how many readers will know of a World War II instance in which U.S. bombs were actually tested on pigs that had been put in uniforms?) as well as hard, fast facts (the recently shelved XB-70 bomber project cost taxpayers $1.5 billion).

In sum, The United States Air Force: A Turbulent History 1907-1975 is a powerful account of frustration, determination, tragedy and triumph.

Herbert Molloy Mason, JR., was a U.S. Marine during and after World War II and served both on battleships and on aircraft carriers. He has been aviation editor of a national magazine as well as an editor for several years with a major book publishing company in which his interests centered on military affairs, science, history, and aviation.

Mason is the author of more than a dozen nonfiction books, including The Lafayette Escadrille, High Flew the Falcons, and The Rise of the Luftwaffe. He has flown in everything from Jennies to B-17Gs to F-105Ds, and in 1968 was named an Honorary Pilot of the U.S. Air Force for his work on The New Tigers: The Making of a Modern Fighter Pilot. He and his family live in San Antonio, Texas, long a center of aviation and military activity.

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