Author(s): Norman Polmar; Dana Bell
In the century following the Wright Brothers' historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, thousands of military aircraft have been designed and hundreds of thousands of have been produced. From that massive aeronautic pantheon, two well-known aviation historians have selected the one hundred most significant military aircraft as a centennial tribute.
Among the aircraft showcased in this book are several military aviation "firsts," a few "largest," and a number of superlative aircraft in terms of production or performance. For example, the Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik was produced in greater numbers than any other aircraft in history, while the Lockheed A-12 Oxcart and its derivative SR-71 Blackbird were the world's fastest military aircraft. But most of the aircraft in this book were selected because of their influence on political and military events. The unarmed U-2 spyplane was a key factor in developing U.S. defense policy in the late 1950s, while Curtiss Pusher demonstrated the feasibility of aircraft taking off and landing aboard a warship in 1910-1911. Among the long-lived aircraft are the Vought F4U Corsair, which "flunked" its carrier trials in 1942, but went aboard most U.S. and British fleet carriers before World War II ended, and was flown from French as well as U.S. carriers into the 1950s. Record holders included the English Electric Canberra and the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, both of which first flew more than fifty years ago and remain in first-line service.
No student of World War II would question the inclusion of the Supermarine Spitfire and Boeing B-29 Superfortress, but others might ask why include the Curtiss O-52 Owl and Junkers Ju 52? In the authors' opinion, both were significant aircraft and important milestones in military aviation history. Other aviation buffs will wonder why the authors did not list the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt or the Tupolev Tu-26 Blackjack. The authors explain their choices--and their omissions--in clear, concise commentaries about each aviation era and each aircraft description.
Through words and photos, the book provides an informative and fast-moving tour through a century of military aviation development, from the U.S. Army purchasing the world's first military aircraft from the Wright Brothers through the bombers and fighters participating in Gulf War II of 2003.