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Aviation Century: War & Peace in the Air

by Ron Dick and Dan Patterson, Boston Mills Press, Ontario, Canada, 2006, $49.95.

This, the fifth and last volume in an extraordinary series, measures up in every way to its four predecessors because the astute authors are able to present scientific advances in as interesting a manner as they do aircraft. War & Peace in the Air picks up just after World War II and moves to the present. During this long interval there were fewer new aircraft introduced than in previous eras, but there were far more incidents of aerial combat, as wars festered all over the world. And, as in the previous volumes, Dick and Patterson make ample use of colorful human characters to add dimension to the work.

A disclosure: I wrote one of the two forewords, and as such might be expected to be favorably biased toward the book. I think this can discounted, as any reviewer will almost certainly also praise War & Peace.

There is much to praise, beginning with Dan Patterson’s uncanny mastery of the camera, and of book layout as well. He is a portrait artist not only of aircraft, but of people, as a quick glance at P. 154 will reveal. There he has Brig. Gen. Robin Olds happily sitting in the cockpit of the McDonnell F-4 Phantom in which he scored two kills in Vietnam. Juxtaposed with that photo is an oil painting of Olds in his flight suit on the flight line at Ubon, Thailand, and you can see at once how Patterson captured not just the transient image but the soul of his subject.

Remarkably, this huge book is divided into only three chapters and an epilogue. Chapter 1, “Military Aviation in the Jet Age,” naturally covers the many wars of the last six decades. Ron Dick uses the conflicts to skillfully weave in a progress report on jet aviation. His authoritative and exciting style lends itself to stories of wars and warriors, and both authors supplement this with a great collection of photographs they have assembled over the years.

War & Peace in the Air is international in scope, and provides the same careful attention to detail in its coverage of foreign aircraft and airmen as it does to their American counterparts. Particularly valuable are Patterson’s photos of foreign museum aircraft, featuring his trademark shots of beautifully illuminated cockpits. Even if you were fortunate enough to visit those far-away museums, you would never have the opportunity to see the interior detail in the way Patterson renders it.

Chapter 2, “Flight Safety,” is a daring departure for a book of this type, for it deals forthrightly with a ticklish issue, particularly today. The authors address accidents from the 1908 crash of Orville Wright and Thomas Selfridge in the Military Flyer to the present-day hazard of terrorists. Included is an interesting personal account of Ron Dick’s accident in a de Havilland Tiger Moth.

Chapter 3, “What Next? 21st Century Wings,” is an informed look into the future, when there will be an extraordinary change in the nature of aircraft. The authors address everything from stealth to composite structures to the possibility of an antigravity device—the goal of every pilot from before the Wrights until now.

Then, as a graceful gesture to the 100th anniversary of flight, they end the book and their amazing five volumes with an “Epilogue: Rediscovering the Wrights.” In this they pay homage to Orville and Wilbur, as well as to the small group of dedicated craftsmen who have in recent years created reproductions of so many of the Wright aircraft.

This is a book to read through, and then to park someplace where you can dip into it randomly, just to savor the richness of the text and the photography. It is a fitting climax to a great series.


Originally published in the July 2007 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here