Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas That Revolutionized War, from Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0670032853
ISBN-10: 0670032859
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From Publishers Weekly

For the aviation buff with a passion for history, this survey from veteran national security correspondent Budiansky (Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in WWII) will be a must. Budiansky has plumbed a plethora of the right sources to assemble an eminently accessible and accurate survey of the evolution of military aviation during the 20th century, with an emphasis on U.S. and British experience. From a succinct account of the development of powered flight in the early part of the century, Budiansky moves on to its military application by the world's armies during WWI and its "coming of age" during WWII, cleverly interweaving technical advancements that have directly affected military aviation with the fighting man's point-of-view. World War I, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the 1991 Gulf War and the Iraq campaign of 2003 are all covered accurately and succinctly, as is the context necessary to understand the air warfare component of each. From the propellers and airfoils of the Wright brothers to the stealth aircraft of today, the important technological developments and innovations made in aircraft design are all here, simply and clearly explained. The research is extensive and thorough, and more than 100 images concretize all the tech talk and descriptions of action. The mention of the air warfare theories of John Boyd, developed during and after Vietnam, that revamped air force fighter tactics and design, comprise just one of myriad rewarding byways in this comprehensive project. 40-plus airplane diagrams; 35 maps and illus.; two 16-page b&w photo inserts totaling 87 images (not seen by PW).
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From Booklist

A seasoned defense journalist surveys the application of aviation to war, which became possible less than five years after the Wright brothers' first flight. Aviation as a decisive factor in warfare, however, wasn't realized until during the two Gulf Wars against Iraq. That long development is attributable to a variety of factors, beginning with a sheer lack of aircraft and inappropriate aircraft design, as in the early World War II heavy bombers. The matter of having faulty--or no--theory and tactics of aviation warfare, as in Vietnam, and the capacities of enemies for creating stout defenses and making rapid repairs, as in Korea, needed to be overcome. Politics also had retarding effects, especially in Vietnam but also in the controversy over area bombing during WWII. Not until the convergence, in the wake of Vietnam, of new aircraft and tactics with the concept of electronically supported smart weapons did air power achieve the results advocates had long anticipated. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (April 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670032859
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670032853
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,452,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephen Budiansky is a writer, historian, and journalist, the author of 14 books about military and intelligence history, science, and the natural world. He is a former editor and writer at U.S. News & World Report and The Atlantic and the former Washington Editor of the scientific journal Nature. He lives on a small farm in northern Virginia.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes VINE VOICE on April 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I'm always a little wary of long history books written by journalists, who sometimes present history as a tedious interview of various "sources." Stephen Budiansky, a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, is a happy exception to the rule. His prose is clear and crisp, and he tells an engaging story in a way that kept drawing me back to his rather hefty "Air Power."
Budiansky begins his book by explaining why the accomplishments of the Wright Brothers were so remarkable. He then renders a detailed history of the military uses, both real and imagined, of aircraft. The result is a story of a rapidly emerging technology told against the background of the military theories of the 20th and early 21st century.
Throughout his book, Budiansky takes issue with the views of theorists and generals who claimed that air power could be a "war-winning" weapon, either because it could be used to terrorize civilian populations into surrender or because it could cause rapid economic collapse by striking at the chokepoints in an enemy's supply system. The author argues that, with very few exceptions (such as the interdiction of German oil supplies in the last year of World War II), air power has not performed very well as a strategic tool and has always been far more effective when used as a tactical weapon in support of forces on the ground. In this sense, the Second Gulf War in Iraq can be viewed as the apotheosis of the effective use of air power: with the advent of readily available precision weapons, even "strategic" aircraft such as the B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers have been used to great advantage in the role of close support of ground troops.
In the aftermath of the opening phases of the Second Gulf War, air power is for the moment ascendant on the battle field.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Declan Trott on January 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Before the Wright Brothers ever flew, authors like HG Wells were predicting that vast destruction would be wrought from the air in any future conflict. This is the story of how aviation technology slowly, fitfully came to deliver on that promise.

From the first short hops at Kitty Hawk, Budiansky takes the reader from the anticlimactic debut of heavier than air craft in the Italo-Turkish war to the awesome power of the USAF during the two Gulf Wars. Without neglecting the obvious great battles and aircraft, he emphasises crucial peacetime developments, in both aircraft design and the equally important realm of tactics and strategy, that did so much to shape how wars were fought.

The book has some minor flaws. British and American development of such technologies as the jet engine, radar, and swept wings are given exhaustive treatment, at the end of which we are informed that, by the way, the Germans had also made these inventions years before. It is also unfortunate to end any piece of writing with the statement "Rumsfeld was right". While the second Gulf war was a technological and military triumph, we are given no hint of the morass Iraq was to become or how ineffective all weather medium level precision bombing is against an urban insurgency.

But these jarring notes are insufficient to spoil a masterpiece. Budiansky leaves us with the irony that air power has achieved its greatest success in the battlefield role that ambitious officers have been trying to escape since the beginning.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bill Hensler VINE VOICE on August 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Bottom line up front Amazon.com buyers: This book is worth its money just for the number of insightful tales. Example, the writer gives the full aerodynamic reasons why the Fokker VII was the best fighter of the Great War, World War One. The little Fokker D VII only had 160 HP, little better than a modern Cessna 172. Allied aircraft of WWI had up to 400 HP engines and had less performance than the German Fokker. The Germans had a spents more time on the science of aerodynamics.

The book is full of wonderful stories. Here is an example. Did you know in the closing months of WWII a group of British FM-2 Wildcats (Martlet IIs) flying from carriers mixed it up with German pilots flying BF-109s out of Norway and shot several of the 109s down? Yes! Who would have "thunk" the portly Wildcat could best the BF-109? The aircraft that helped win the 1942 Battle of Midway could best the BF-109 if its flown by the right pilots. Speed is life to a fighter but something can be said for turning radius, rate of climb, and pilot experence.

There is a saying among historians that it takes 50 years for the truth to be written about subject. This book is very anti-strategic bombing but gives specific reasons why strategic bombing is pointless. Why? Well, if you want to miss the target, waste aircrews, wreck aircraft, kill civilians, and enrage the populace of a nation then use strategic bombers. The writer goes on to give sterling examples of how much better the fighter bombers (or Jabo, pronounced "ya-boh", a contraction of the German word Jagbombenflugzeug) was for bombing targets and tactical support. Example, it was the fighters, not the bombers, that beat Germany in the Western front in France during WWII.
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