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Cold War at 30,000 Feet: The Anglo-American Fight for Aviation Supremacy Hardcover – April 30, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0674024618 ISBN-10: 0674024613

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674024613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674024618
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,904,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The "special relationship" between the United States and Great Britain did not extend to aircraft development during the Cold War, contends Engel in this thoroughly researched, well-reasoned case study. He presents aircraft technology as a critical area of competition between a rising superpower with prodigious production capacity and a state seeking to establish a lead in quality. Underlying this contest was an ideological tension between American commitment to free market competition and British movement toward a managed economy. In an emerging Cold War, the answer was complicated by the conflicting demands of security and sales. Corporations sought to distribute their products as widely as possible, while governments feared losing ground in the technological competition. Rigid control of exports, however, risked crippling the infant jet aircraft industry. Engel describes a series of policy conflicts that, through the 1960s, repeatedly, and seriously, shook the Anglo-American relationship. Britain consistently took "astounding" risks with its American relationship, while the U.S. judged its intimate ally by its acceptance of American security concerns. Yet both parties valued their relationship enough to stand together despite their differences over trade and security issues—a decision Engel considers cultural as well as political. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


An impressive work that makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the Cold War and Anglo–American relations. Engel's view of the conflict and cooperation between the United States and Britain adds considerable nuance to existing interpretations, especially with the British skullduggery over Viscount sales to the People's Republic of China. This was a delight to read. (Alan P. Dobson, University of Dundee)

An excellent, ambitious book. I know of no other work that uses aviation to explore the Special Relationship. Engel is a superb writer, with a keen sense of the drama of his story and an ability to make the topic come alive. (Thomas W. Zeiler, University of Colorado)

This brilliant book contributes to both the history of the airplane industry and Cold War history. Great Britain and the United States competed for supremacy and clashed over sales in the industry as leaders in each nation believed they alone knew how to strike the proper balance between the demands of security and the needs of commerce. It is a fascinating and important story, and Engel tells it well. (Richard S. Kirkendall, University of Washington)

A story of power and conflict brilliantly told. Engel reveals in unprecedented detail the bitter Anglo–American discord over policies to control the sale of the most technologically advanced aircraft of the Atomic Age. This book will change our perspective on the Cold War. (Richard H. Immerman, Temple University)

Despite their strategic special relationship, cooperation between the British and Americans masked a fierce rivalry for air power after World War II. This thorough yet fast-paced narrative is not only a rich contribution to Cold War history, but a timely reminder about the limits to globalization in a world where hard power still matters, even among 'friends.' (Walter A. McDougall, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age)

This book recounts Britain's challenge to American hegemony in the production of airliners during the years after the Second World War. Ho hum, you'd think. But with a cast of colorful characters—among them Ernest Bevin, Dean Acheson, and John Maynard Keynes—and acute glimpses into how things worked in postwar Washington, this chronicle of an intense commercial struggle gives readers a fascinating glimpse into a forgotten cranny of history. (The Atlantic 2008-10-01)

Jeffrey A. Engel's study of Anglo–American rivalry in aviation provides a fascinating look at the underlying issues that strained the alliance during the first two decades of the Cold War. Building on existing historiography regarding the allies' different strategic visions during this period, Engel develops a fascinating new approach by demonstrating how conflicts over aviation policy illuminate these differences. Employing an impressive array of archival research, the author details how the allies endured a number of potentially serious disagreements regarding the diffusion of aviation technology. While Engel may overestimate the damage that these disputes had on the alliance, as no real crises developed from the cases he explores, he does an exceptional job of showing how important airpower was in the conflicting worldviews of the two great English-speaking powers. (Daniel C. Williamson American Historical Review)

Cold War at 30,000 Feet stands out as one of a handful of books on the diplomacy of commercial aviation and as one of the few that emphasize the fierce competition between the United States and Great Britain in the early Cold War. Its narrower chronological focus, in particular, sets it apart from its closest historiographical cousin, Alan Dobson's Peaceful Air Warfare… Engel's book asks interesting questions, offers new and thorough research, and is a compelling read. (Jeff Woods Diplomatic History)

Jeffrey A. Engel's book is a fascinating read, especially for those who maintain that international relations are defined by 'high politics' (as in global alliances and security issues) that take precedent over 'low politics' (such as financial and trade issues). In examining Anglo–American differences over the trade in aeronautics (engines and aircraft), Engel shows just how much low politics mattered—and how they could be defining moments of high politics when international relations collided with economic and trade interests… Cold War at 30,000 Feet is an important addition to our understanding of the Cold War. (Marc Dierikx Journal of American History)

More About the Author

Jeffrey A. Engel is founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. He has taught at Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford College, and before joining SMU's faculty in 2012 taught history and public policy at Texas A&M University while serving as the Verlin and Howard Kruse '52 Founders Professor and Director of Programming for the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs. A Senior Fellow of the Norwegian Nobel Institute and graduate of Cornell University, he additionally studied at St. Catherine's College, Oxford University, and received his Ph.D. in American history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Engel has authored or edited eight books on American foreign policy, including Cold War at 30,000 Feet: The Anglo-American Fight for Aviation Supremacy (Harvard University Press, 2007), which received the Paul Birdsall Prize from the American Historical Association; Local Consequences of the Global Cold War (Stanford University Press and the Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2008); The China Diary of George H.W. Bush: The Making of a Global President (Princeton University Press, 2008); The Fall of the Berlin Wall: The Revolutionary Legacy of 1989 (Oxford University Press, 2009); with Joseph R. Cerami, Rethinking Leadership and "Whole of Government" National Security Reform (Strategic Studies Institute, 2010); Into the Desert: Reflections on the Gulf War (Oxford University Press, 2012); and, with Andrew Preston and Mark Lawrence, America in the World: A History in Documents from the War with Spain to the War on Terror (Princeton University Press, 2014). His scholarly and popular articles have appeared in such journals as Diplomatic History; Diplomacy & Statecraft; Project Syndicate; Perspectives on History; Enterprise & Society; The International Journal; and Air & Space Magazine.

He is currently writing Seeking Monsters to Destroy: How America Goes to War, From Jefferson to Obama (Oxford University Press, forthcoming) and a comprehensive diplomatic history of the first Bush Administration entitled When the World Seemed New: George H.Bush and the Surprisingly Peaceful End of the Cold War Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, forthcoming).


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on May 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The demise of Great Britain's aviation industry in the aftermath of World War II is an oft-repeated object lesson among the aviation policy community in Washington, D.C. Usually it is interpreted as a warning to American policymakers not to decrease federal funding for both aeronautical technology and infrastructure, lest the U.S. decline as an air power like the British did after World War II. As Jeffrey A. Engel shows in "Cold War at 30,000 Feet: The Anglo-American Fight for Aviation Supremacy" the story of British fortunes in aeronautics after World War II is both more complex and interesting than the simplistic morality play that policy analysts have used repeatedly to turn back the budget cutters.

Instead, we learn that both the U.S. and Great Britain recognized aviation's primacy in not only winning the war but also in ensuring continued sovereignty and hegemony in the postwar world. It would become, as leaders on both sides of the Atlantic realized, a critical linchpin in cold war rivalries. Accordingly, as "Cold War at 30,000 Feet" makes clear, these two allies jockeyed for position in controlling the aviation business after the war. They knew that supplying airplanes to the world--both commercial and military--would help ensure economic well-being, create well-paid jobs, enhance international trade, tightly link postwar allies, and assure nuclear superiority. Both sought to control this situation, but the U.S. had the advantage in industrial capacity left intact despite the war. Moreover, its prewar aviation industry had built excellent transport aircraft in large numbers, especially the incomparable DC-3 of which thousands were flying by 1945.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robert Garvin on March 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Overall, I found the book interesting ---- particularly the data on
the British sale of Vickers Viscount airliners to the Peoples' Republic of China ---- a tad overwritten, particularly the repeated references to "the New Jerusalem." Was that phrase really in vogue in Whitehall at the time?
The author's thesis is that Britain needed to export airplanes and engines after the end of World War 2 in order to justify their development expense for the home market; that the best export market for its products was in countries that flew airliners into the USSR and PRC; that the USA prohibited such sales through COCOM, the Coordinating Committee, out of stubborn anti-Communism and to protect the US market dominance in aviation; and that therefore the British industry lost permanently its technical lead in jet engines and airliners.
What Engel does not address is that politics aside, British engines
and airliners did not prevail in the non-Communist market against more efficient and more productive American competitor products. When British products were competitive, they found a home in America, e.g. the Rolls-Royce Tay was built under license by Pratt & Whitney, the Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire by Wright Aeronautical, the RR Spey and Adour by Allison (which was later bought by RR,) the Canberra bomber. Viscounts went into service with Capitol Airlines.
It is true that the size of the internal US military and civil aviation market was such that American firms inevitably developed competitive product to serve it, and achieved economies of scale and productivity not open to the smaller British firms. The reason for the
subsequent dominance of the American airliners was that they were more attractive to airline customers around the world in terms of productivity.
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A very thoroughly-researched historical treatise on the little-known manoeuvrings, rivalries, and occasional eruptions of unadulterated blazing anger between the postwar British and US aviation industries. While Britain struggled to repay its wartime debt to America, to catch-up on its lag in heavy aircraft production, and to divest of its Empire, America took giant strides ahead due to its massive home market and much greater human potential.

Britain was tempted to export all it could to whoever would buy it. America, on the other hand, insisted on a strict embargo on the USSR, China, and their blocs. By diplomatic effort (and often subterfuge), the British did manage to sell both to the Soviets and the Chinese -- arousing huge US wrath in each case. These exports also allowed the Soviets to reverse-engineer and copy what they had bought -- particularly the pioneering 1940s Rolls-Royce jet engines, the Nene and the Derwent.

The US was far from a shining guardian of freedom in attempting to keep aviation technology from the Communists, however. Attaining world market dominance was often the true motive behind US policy. In fact, America often exhasperated the British by selling (particularly to China) after it had stopped the British from doing so. The USA also undermined promising British projects like the TSR2 strike aeroplane, offering to supply off-the-shelf products which turned out to be inferior, behind schedule, and over budget.

In the end, rightly or wrongly, America won and Britain ended up with a mere shadow of an indigenous aircraft industry by the 1990s. The book also contains asides on US-French aviation rivalries.

The book contains a fair number of imprecisions and a surprising number of minor errors.
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