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...

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