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Officers in Flight Suits: The Story of American Air Force Fighter Pilots in the Korean War Hardcover – September 1, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0814780381 ISBN-10: 0814780385 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 247 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press; First Edition edition (September 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814780385
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814780381
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,255,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


”Sherwood provides a definitve account of Air Force pilots, their training, operations and battles, in the Korean War.”

-Virginia Pilot,

"Sherwood paints a vivid and realistic portrait of the culture of Korean War pilots, examining the motivations, their methods, and the effect that being a fighter pilot had on their personal lives."

-Air Force,

"An extraordinary synthesis of social and military history which throws new light on the story of the air combat in Korea.”

-Ronald H. Spector,author of After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam

"Sherwood thoroughly documents the superb performance of air force fighter pilots during the Korean War. They met the best pilots China and the Soviet Union had to offer—and won. In doing so, the author has competently mined the extensive documentary resources of the Air Force History and Museums Program and made constructive use of memoirs and interviews."

-Journal of American History,

From the Publisher

The United States Air Force fought as atruly independent service for the first time during the Korean War. As a result, fighter pilots reigned supreme. In Korea, American air power was challenged by one of the most advanced fighter of the time-- the Soviet MiG-15--and ruled the skies in many celebrated aerial battles. In addition, however, they destroyed virtually every major town and city in North Korea, demolished its entire crop irrigation system, and killed close to one million civilians.

Korea, then, is the perfect laboratory for studying the culture of fighter pilots, a culture based on self-confidence and risk- taking, one which has promoted what author John Sherwood calls "flight suit attitude."

In Officers in Flight Suits, Sherwood explores the flight suit officer's life, drawing on memoirs, diaries, letters, novels, unit records, and personal papers as well as interviews with over fifty veterans who served in the Air Force in Korea. From their training to dramatic encounters during battle, from their socio-economic backgrounds to the flight suit culture they developed, Sherwood investigates every dimension of these pilots' lives. The book provides an illuminating portrait of fighter pilot culture, demonstrating how this culture affected their performance in battle and their attitudes toward others, particularly women, in their off- duty activities.

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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 26, 1997
Format: Hardcover
When the Korean War began in the summer of 1950, the United States Air Force was the youngest branch of the American military, having been
created as a service coequal to the Army and Navy less than three years earlier. Although the operational history of the USAF and the experience of many of its officers stretched back into the time when it was a branch of the Army known as the United States Army Air Force, the USAF hadn't yet
made its mark as a separate service. The Korean War came at a propitious time, giving the USAF a vehicle in which to shape itself as an institution. The fighter pilots who fought in the Korean War would become the leaders of the new Air Force. Their attitudes toward flying and toward the military in general would come to shape Air Force thinking over the next several decades.

In this book John Sherwood has provided the reader with a close look at the pilots who flew fighters during the Korean War--pilots who, by their skills and attitudes, would establish a style for those who followed. This style is defined by the author as "flight suit attitude." He writes:

Flight suit attitude ... was a sense of self-confidence and pride that verged on arrogance ... the aircraft of preference was the high-performance, single-seat fighter ... This culture placed a premium on cockiness and informality. A flight suit officer spent more time in a flight suit than in a uniform. In his world, status was based upon flying ability, not degrees, rank, or "officer" skills (p. 6).

Where did this flight suit attitude develop? The author begins by examining the backgrounds of Air Force fighter pilots in this fledgling
branch of the United States' military services.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Truett Guthrie on January 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Many authors, such as Robert Futrell and Larry Davis, have written very thorough histories of the air war in Korea, with great detail of dates, missions flown, technical date, etc.,but this is the first book on social and cultural histories of that subject. Unlike World War II, the exploits of fighter pilots in Korea overshadowed the bombing campaigns. This book is an extensive examination of the "flight suit attitude," a combination of cockiness and pride, that has always characterized the fighter pilot. "Officers in Flight Suits" details these pilot`s social background, aviation training, combat effectiveness, and off-duty activities, focusing on eleven living participants (such as Robinson Risner)after Sherwood interviewed approximately fifty flight suit officers. The air war in Korea is best remembered for its legendary air battles between the American F-86 Sabre and the Russian built MiG-15, which Sherwood emphasizes, but he also covers the fighter-bomber pilots involved in air interdiction. I have visited by phone with Mr. Sherwood several times and he is exceptionally knowledgeable and helpful with my hobby of giving programs on the Korean Airwar. This is a great book! If you have an interest in the Korean War and haven`t read this book, buy it now!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. Rudy VINE VOICE on February 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
In "Officers in Flight Suits" John Darrell Sherwood describes the social environment of the United States Air Force during the Korean War. Using interviews with twelve airmen who were representative of the Air Force at the time, Sherwood documents his comparative analysis of their experiences to draw conclusions about society as a whole.

The author tries to explain the "Flight Suit" mentality - the mind-set of the alpha male in search of the next thrill. {If one were to try to explain this mindset today, the reader would visualize extreme sports athletes}. By the end of the book, he actually laments at the loss of this mind-set in the Air Force of today.

The book starts off strong by providing brief biographies of twelve airmen, such as "Robbie" Risner (later a POW during the Vietnam War) and Earl Brown, a black man who retired as a three-star general. Using material from personal interviews, Sherwood breaks down various topics such as "MiG Sweeps", life at the bases in Korea, and R&R trips to Japan. After briefly covering these topics, he concludes the book by revisiting where each of the twelve officers ended up.

For readers looking for a description of aerial combat, I would recommend Fehrenbach's "This Kind of War". If you are looking for a book documenting the social history of the 1950's, this one's for you.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 21, 1998
Format: Hardcover
A member of the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Basic Reading List, "Officers in Flight Suits" is an interesting study of the fighter-interceptor and fighter-bomber community during the Korean War. John Sherwood is a military historian, but writes the book from the point of view of a sociologist. He compares and constrasts the backgrounds and careers of 12 fighter pilots who saw combat in Korea, including such famous figures as Risner. Sherwood's in-depth documentation throughout the book probably make it a valuable resource for those in academia. The book is also an easy and entertaining read. Not bad for a plane trip or sitting on the beach.
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