Again, without meaning to, we’ve given an issue a theme. But we didn’t realize it until the art was laid out and we could see what we had created. It became evident that every article, in one way or another, keys in on the way in which the warriors’ mechanical steeds, either quickly or slowly, are fated to disappear. They die in combat. They are destroyed in operational accidents. Sadly, if they survive a war, they get no graceful retirement. After every conflict, a new technological generation replaces them, and they are given a section of desert to occupy until their turn comes at the shredder. It’s a sad but irrevocable truth. At least some are in the traces and pulling hard, however, when their end comes.
After successfully bellying his beloved Mustang, Katydid, into a German farm field, Lt. Col. Elwyn Righetti keyed the mike. Oil and coolant streaked the fuselage as he broadcast to the Mustangs circling overhead, “Tell the family I’m OK. Broke my nose on landing. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun working with you, gang. Be seeing you a little later.” That was the last trace of the Eighth Air Force’s highest-scoring strafer and 7.5-kill aerial ace. He simply disappeared and not a single clue to his fate has been found in the more than seven decades since. Jay Stout’s article, “Vanished Hero,” tells his story. But it’s a tale with no ending.
Col. Joseph M. Gaines, USAF, Retired, not only lived to tell his tale but also has given readers a blow-by-blow account of what it is like to have total engine failure in a
U-2 “Dragon Lady” spy plane at 68,000 feet over a completely weathered-in Korea. In “U-2 in Trouble,” we not only learn a lot about the fabled aerial-reconnaissance platform but also are given a rare view into the thoughts of a pilot faced with diminishing choices, none of them good.
The Germans’ defense of their homeland gave birth to the densest antiaircraft defense system that has ever been created. It destroyed thousands of Allied aircraft and crewmen, and it scared bombing crews far more than the Luftwaffe’s fighters did—and for good reason. A bomber crew could protect itself against fighters, but bombers were nothing more than slow-moving targets for the thousands of flak guns far below. A crew’s skill and experience meant nothing against flak. It was all about luck. And for thousands of crewmen, their luck ran out. In the article “Flak—World War II’s Greatest Killer,” Donald Nijboer extracted information from his recently published book on the subject that fleshes out the story of the Nazis’ aerial artillery and, through first-person bomber-crew accounts, describes its terrible efficiency.
While the vast majority of aircrew, pilots, and others survived every war and every period of America’s aerial expansion, the vast majority of airplanes didn’t. As technology and conflicts passed them by, the old warriors were too often flown home to be reduced to their primary elements, as fodder for pots and pans. Precious few made it to museums. In his article, “Of Bombers and Boneyards,” Fred Johnsen, who has photographically chronicled the boneyard fates of hundreds of aircraft, takes us on a tour through aerial graveyards, beginning with World War I’s “million-dollar bonfires” up to today’s desert enclaves of dead and dying aircraft. Some of the photos are sad in the extreme but display an integral part of our aerial history.
And on that happy note, I’ll leave you to turn the page and discover what we have in store for you. I think you’ll like it.
A man with a large folding camera joins two other spectators beside an upended stack of airplanes to be burned in France after World War I. The nearest pile includes Fokker D.VII fighters, beyond the needs of the fledgling Air Service, which sent other Fokkers back to the States for use. (Photo courtesy of Greg VanWyngarden)