Air Power - An Overview
Major General William "Billy" Mitchell defined air power as " the ability to do something in the air. It [consisted] of transporting all sorts of things by aircraft from one place to another." Air power may also be characterized as the ability to fly where you want, when you want, and to prevent the enemy from doing the same. Air power planning and use requires that it operate as part of a national grand strategy using strategic planning and tactical operations according to the principles of war or commerce.
Air power has grown to consist of air forces, airlines, general aviation, the aircraft and ancillary industries, as well as fuel, manpower, and other supplies. Air power also requires management through command, control, communications and intelligence.
When World War I broke out in 1914, air power was in its infancy, but it grew to be an auxiliary force to be reckoned with by 1918, adding offensive capability to the primary ground-based power (the Army). Most air operations took place over the Western Front in France and consisted of reconnaissance activities--obtaining information, photographic, and making maps for the armies, and fighting to prevent others from doing the same. Very late in the war, ground-attack began to be a significant air tactic. In the meantime, grand-strategic bombing of Britain by German Zeppelin airships and Gotha bombers had targeted cities and forced British forces to divert their anti-aircraft guns and fighters to defense functions. In this 1914-1918 struggle, the supply of aircraft of superior designs, of aircrew, mechanics, and fuel, was critical, as was salvage and repair.
In the inter-war years (1918-1939 for Europe and 1918-1941 for the United States) air forces and the infrastructure upon which they depended lay almost dormant except for French, British, Italian, and American colonial policing. Both the French and the British feared the air menace and talked of deterrence. Airlines began to develop, and these, though still very small by 1939, had made great technical strides in safety, speed, reliability, and comfort.
Starting in 1934, modernization began with the technical revolution in machines--all-metal construction, high-octane fuels, airfields both fixed and mobile, electronics, jet propulsion, computers, and atomic bombs (nuclear weapons). These changes led to air power becoming a significant third service in the World War II battles. Not only air forces, but also air transport and the whole infrastructure were used in the war effort.
During World War II, air power was an instrument of policy in the grand strategic bombing of Britain, Germany, and Japan. It was the powerful handmaiden of the armies in the German blitzkrieg; of the lightning campaigns in the massive Soviet air armies along with all their arms; of the Allied armies; at sea in the Pacific, where both land-based air forces and carrier task forces operated; where aircraft patrolled the sea lanes in the North Atlantic; and also in the combination of armies and air transport in airborne paratroop and glider forces. Air power also used photo-reconnaissance, and wireless interception of messages proved to be a powerful intelligence tool. By mid-war, new advanced airfields could be built in three days using steel planks, and fuel could be supplied in places by pipeline. Further, a massive air logistics effort took place over "the Hump" between India and China. Equally important was salvage, repair, and maintenance in which the supply of spare parts was critical, as was POL (petrol, oil, lubricants) and tools.
World War II saw great debates over the proper use of air power. The Germans and Soviets used it essentially as part of the ground forces in blitzkrieg; the British and the Americans started out emphasizing grand-strategic bombing, whose tactics were a form of guerrilla warfare. A third aspect was defense and here the British used air power successfully in the 1940 Battle of Britain, while defense was forced upon the Germans after 1943 and the Japanese in 1945. The Soviets on the Eastern Front used massive air armies to lead and support their tank and infantry forces.
Air power was used at sea against U-boats attacking convoys in the Atlantic, and in the Pacific: both as a judo blitzkrieg carrier force, striking quick, deadly blows, and to support and protect amphibious operations. These forces ultimately seized the island bases from which the grand-strategic bombing of Japan was launched in conjunction with carrier attacks and submarine assaults on shipping.
The dropping of atomic bombs on top of the fire raids on Japan showed that at last airmen had developed the deterrent power that had failed to prevent war in 1939.
After Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which ended World War II, air power developed along a number of peaceful and warlike lines, each requiring its own technology and machines linked through technology, manufacturers, and transfers of personnel.
The airlines had benefited enormously from the mass production of airliners during the war, and the setting up of airways and airfields (airports) around the world. The London-Los Angeles non-stop reach of the big piston-engine airliners was overtaken after 1958 by the arrival of the big jets, followed in 1969 by the Boeing 747 jumbo jet. By 1970, ocean liners had been eclipsed by airliners, and in 1976 the supersonic Concorde entered service. On domestic routes, smaller variants of British, American, French, and Soviet airlines allowed air transport outside of Europe and Japan, where there were high-speed networks, to overtake the railways.
At the same time, civil and defense manufacturing had been, like the airlines, consolidated or merged into fewer and fewer companies such as Boeing and Lockheed-Martin in the United States, and Airbus in Europe. After the break up of the Soviet Union in 1990, the Russians ceased to be players, but the Chinese had by then become important.
As far as air forces have been concerned, during the Cold War of 1947-1990, the U.S. Air Force and the Royal Air Force (RAF) in NATO faced off with deterrents against the Soviet and Eastern bloc (Warsaw Pact) forces. This standoff, which included both land- and sea-based air and missile forces, also saw the development of tactical doctrines and equipment that was exercised, mainly in the West, in a number of wars, more consistently and flexibly by the Israeli Air Force in a series of clashes with the Arabs that demonstrated astute use of the principles of war.
While early on, air power theorists such as the Italian Guilio Douhet and Amadeo Mecozzi, the British F.W. Lanchester, and Sir Hugh Trenchard, and the American Billy Mitchell shared the limelight, increasingly this work has become that of staffs, especially in the Gulf War of 1991.
The road to space was traveled at roughly the same pace as that seen in the introduction of the steam warship and the airplane. Rockets were being tried out in the 1930s and led in World War II to the German V-2 weapon used against Britain. After 1945, this weapon and its scientists were moved to the United States as the basis of missile programs. Other German scientists were taken to the USSR to create the weapons that created the "missile gap" crisis of 1960. Already in 1957, the Russians had orbited the Sputnik satellite which spurred the United States’ efforts to create intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and in 1969, after men had been orbited in the early 1960s, the landing on the moon. This was followed by the Mir Soviet space station, and after the end of the Cold War in 1990, by cooperation in an international space station. In the meantime, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) treaties from 1970 had gradually been eliminating ballistic nuclear weapons.
Since 1945, air forces’ budgets have risen dramatically, but the number of machines in an air force has declined. This has been made up in the increasing lethality of weapons and in the number of people and amount of cargo that an aircraft can carry over a much longer distance, at speeds up to Mach 2.2 (1,400 miles per hour).
In contrast, airlines have merged and grown, so that a number are much larger than their neighboring air force. Airlines are at war daily to make a profit from passengers and cargo.
Increasingly in the latter 20th century and into the 21st, military and naval air power has been used for peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, while the airlines have demonstrated the enormous ability to make the world smaller, more peaceful, and commercial.
In the years 1903 to 2002, air power has changed dramatically from a warlike infant to a pacific giant, from a mouse to an elephant.
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Scientific American wrote about the airplane before the Wright Brothers' first flight and through the pages of this (then) weekly periodical, one can track aviation’s progress from the turn of the century through World War I.
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Van der Meulen, Jacob. Building the B-29. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.
Verges, Marianne. On Silver Wings: The Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, 1942-1944. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.
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White, Robert P. Mason Patrick and the Fight for Air Service Independence. Washington, D.C..: Smithsonian Institute Press, expected 2001.
"William Moffett." in Leary, William M., ed. Aviation’s Golden Age: Portraits From the 1920s and 1930s. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1989.
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Wolk, Herman. Toward Independence: The Emergence of the United States Air Force, 1945-1947. Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1996.
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Wragg, David. Wings Over the Sea. New York: Arco Publishing, 1979.
Wynn, Humphrey: The Black Cat Squadron: Night Bombing in World War I. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990.
Yenne, Bill. Legends of Flight With the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Lincolnwood, Ill.: Publications International, Ltd., 1999.
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"The Aerodrome:" http://www.theaerodrome.com/index.html.
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"Air Mobility Command," USAF Fact Sheet http://www.af.mil/news/factsheets/Air_Mobility_Command.html
"Air War Over the Pacific." http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/Bunker/2206/
"Aircraft of the Spanish Civil War." http://www.zi.ku.dk/personal/drnash/model/spain/SpainAir.htm
"The Aircraft Carrier." http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/ships/carrier
Aerospace Power Chronicles Profile: Mason A. Patrick: www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/cc/patrick.html.
"American Experience: Fly Girls." www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/flygirls
"American Experience: Race for the Superbomb." http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bomb/peopleevents/pandeAMEX61.html
Annals of the Flying Tigers: http://www.danford.net/avg.htm
"Anthony Fokker." National Aviation Hall of Fame. www.nationalaviation.org/enshrinee/fokker.html.
"The Army Air Corps Act of 1926." Air Force History Support Office. http://www.airforcehistory.hq.af.mil/soi/index.htm#1926
AVG: The Official Homepage of the American Volunteer Group: http://www.flyingtigersavg.com"
Aviones de la Guerre Civil Espanola." http://members.es.tripod.de/mrval/index.htm (this page is in Spanish, but is the best single listing of airplanes and photographs on the web.)
"B-2 Spirit." Federation of American Scientists. http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/bomber/b-2.htm
"B-29 Superfortress." http://b-29.org
"B-52 Facts." http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/PAO/PAIS/HTML/FS-005-DFRC.html
"B-52 Stratofortress." http://www.boeing.com/defense-space/military/b52-strat/
"B-52." USAF Fact Sheet: http://www.af.mil/news/factsheets/B_52_Stratofortress.html
"Battle of Britain." Imperial War Museum. http://www.iwm.org.uk/online/battle%20of%20britain/intro.htm
"Battle of the Coral Sea." http://home.st.net.au/~dunn/coralsea.htm
Benson, Lawrence R. "Golden Legacy, Boundless Future. A Brief History of the United States. Air Force." Air Force History Support Office. http://www.airforcehistory.hq.af.mil/online/goldenlegacy.htm
Bent Prop Project: http://www.bentprop.org
"Berlin Airlift." U.S. Air Force Museum. http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/postwwii/ba.htm
"Berlin: City Held Hostage." U.S. Air Force Museum video at http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/coldwar/bal/bal1.htm
"Billy Mitchell’s Air Power." www.cadre.maxwell.af.mil/ar/mitchell/front.pdf
"Bombing Raids on Britain." http://www.sackville.w-sussex.sch.uk/FWWairwar.htm.
Bingle, Bruce A. "Building the Air Force: Major General Mason Patrick and the Army Air Service" from the Air University Student Research Papers Database at www.au.af.mil/au/database/research/ay1995/awc/bingleba.htm.
"The Birth of the U.S. Air Force." http://www.maxwell.af.mil/au/afhra/wwwroot/rso/birth.html
Blitz Web Exhibit. Museum of London: http://http://www.museum-london.org.uk/MOLsite/exhibits/blitz/intro.html
Boyne, Walter J. "The Spirit of Billy Mitchell." Air Force Magazine Online (June 1996). http://www.afa.org/magazine/June1996/0696mitchell.html
"China Days - A history of the squadrons of the 23rd Fighter Group, in China." http://thevanguard.bizland.com/china_days.htm
"Chronology of Significant Events in Naval Aviation." www.history.navy.mil/branches/org4-5.htm
"Chronology of Significant Events in Naval Aviation." http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/org4-5.htm
"Civil Air Patrol History, Vandenberg AFB." http://www.vandenberg.af.mil/associate_units/civil_air_patrol/History.html
"Civil Air Patrol." U.S. Air Force Museum. http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/prewwii/cap.htm
"The Civil Air Patrol Story." http://www.capnhq.gov/nhq/dp/dpm/capstory.html
CNN Bosnia: http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/Bosnia/index.html
CNN Cold War Special. http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/
Cold War Exhibit. http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/coldwar/cw.htm
Cold War International History Project. http://cwihp.si.edu/default.htm
"Cruise Missiles - How Stuff Works." www.howstuffworks.com/cruise-missile.htm
"Curtis LeMay." Aerospace Power Chronicles. http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/cc/lemay.html.
"Curtis LeMay." http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/afp/afp0198.htm
"Curtis LeMay." National Aviation Hall of Fame http://www.nationalaviation.org/enshrinee/lemay.html
Daso, Dik. "Origins of Airpower: Hap Arnold's Early Career in Aviation Technology, 1903-1935." Airpower Journal, Winter 1996. At http://www.arnold.af.mil/aedc/bios/daso1.htm
Douhet, Giulio. "Trenchard and the Morale Effect of Bombing." http://www.swanseahistoryweb.org.uk/history/blitz/airwar1.htm.
"Eddie Rickenbacker." National Aviation Hall of Fame. www.nationalaviation.org/enshrinee/rickenbacker.html.
"Evolution of Aircraft Carriers. "Naval Aviation History Office. http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/car-toc.htm
F-117A Nighthawk. Federation of American Scientists. http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/f-117.htm
F/A-18." Federation of American Scientists. http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/f-18.htm
"F/A-18 Hornet." U.S. Navy Fact File. http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/factfile/aircraft/air-fa18.html
"50th Anniversary Exhibit." U.S. Air Force Museum. http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/50th/50th.htm
"Fire Bombing." U.S. Air Force Museum. www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/wwii/cp24.htm
1st Aero Squadron: In Pursuit of Pancho Villa: http://www.thehistorynet.com/AviationHistory/articles/1997/1197_text.htm.
"Flying Tigers." U.S. Air Force Museum http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/prewwii/ft.htm.
Fokker Aerostructures History Page: www.fokker.com/Aerostructures.
Foulois, Benjamin. "Report of the Operations of the First Aero Squadron Signal Corps, with the Mexican Punitive Expedition for the Period March 15 to August 15, 1916." http://cavalry.org/pershingtext.htm.
Frisbee, John. "Project Aphrodite" from Air Force Magazine, August 1997 at http://www.afa.org/magazine/valor/0897valor.html
"From Kimpo to Yalu: The Naval Air War in Korea." http://www.naval-air.org/education/know_koreanwar.asp
"General Billy Mitchell, Milwaukee Native and Air Force Pioneer.http://www.uwm.edu/Library/arch/mitchell/intro.htm
Glines, Carroll V. "Billy Mitchell: Air Power Visionary." Aviation History http://www.thehistorynet.com/AviationHistory/articles/1997/0997_cover.htm
______________. "Charmed Life of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker." Aviation History, January 1999. http://www.thehistorynet.com/AviationHistory/articles/1999/0199_text.htm.
"Gotha Bomber." http://www.fiddlersgreen.net/aircraft/WWI/gotha/gotha_info/gotha_info.htm.
"Great Air Battles: Battle of Britain." http://wings.buffalo.edu/info-poland/britain/airbattle.html
Gropman, Alan J. "Benjamin Davis, American - USA." Reprinted from Air Force Magazine. http://www.aviation-history.com/airmen/davis.htm
"The Gulf War."http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/gulf/
"Hap Arnold." http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/bibs/great/arnold.htm.
"Hap Arnold." National Aviation Hall of Fame. http://www.nationalaviation.org/enshrinee/arnold.html
"Heavy Bombers." http://www.heavybombers.com
"Henry "Hap" Arnold--Portrait of a Visionary." http://www.arnold.af.mil/aedc/visionary.htm
"Hunting Bin Laden." http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/
"Invasion of the Low Countries and France." http://www.battleofbritain.net/section-2/page-4.html.
"Isoroku Yamamoto." U.S. Navy Historical Center. http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/prs-for/japan/japrs-xz/i-yamto.htm
Italy Campaign Summary: www.naval-history.net
Ivy, Lt. Col. Jack M. "The Paradoxical Paradigm: Aviation Leadership, 1918-1926: How William Moffett Changed the Navy and How Billy Mitchell Prevented the Formation of a Separate Air Force" from the Air University Student Research Papers Database at www.au.af.mil/au/database/research/ay1997/awc/97-090.htm.
"Jimmy Doolittle." Official US Air Force Biography: http://www.af.mil/news/biographies/doolittle_jh.html
"Jimmy Doolittle." National Aviation Hall of Fame http://www.nationalaviation.org/enshrinee/doolittle.html
"Jimmy Doolittle and the Altimeter." http://planemath.com/activities/pioneerplane/pta.html.
Korean War 50th Anniversary: http://Korea50.army.mil
Korean War 50th Anniversary Exhibit. Air Force Museum: http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/Korea50/k50.htm
"Linebacker II Day to Day." http://members.aol.com/dpoole1272/home/lbdays.htm
Luftwaffe Resource Page. http://www.warbirdsresourcegroup.org/LRG/.
"Meet Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson." http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/people/bios/aero/jeffersona.html
"The Memphis Belle." http://www.memphisbelle.org.
Military Analysis Network on Linebacker II: http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/ops/linebacker-2.htm
Military.com on Black Hawk Down: http://www.military.com/ContentFiles/BHDbackgroundM
Mo'se, Edwin E. "Vietnam War Bibliography." http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~eemoise/bibliography.html
"Naval Aviation in WWII. The Kamikazes: Japanese Suicide Units." http://www.history.navy.mil/download/ww2-31.pdf
"Naval Institute Guide to Ships and Aircraft." http://www.usni.org/resources/FA18Hornet/FA18CD.htm
"North Africa/ Italy." U.S. Air Force Museum. www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/wwii/ce4.htm
RAF Battle of Britain History Site: http://www.raf.mod.uk/bob1940/bobhome.html
Ranger History: Task Force Ranger http://www.ranger.org/usara/s3/Ops/history/somalia.htm
Red Baron Biography: http://www.briggsenterprises.com/bluemax.
"Remember the Blitz." Museum of London. http://www.museum-london.org.uk/MOLsite/exhibits/blitz/intro.html
Richelson, Jeffrey T. "U.S. Satellite Imagery, 1960-1999." April 14, 1999. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB13/
Richtofen, Manfred von. Der Rote Kampfflieger. On-line edition: http://www.richthofen.com.
"Rocketry Through the Ages." http://history.msfc.nasa.gov/rocketry
Russian Aviation Research Page: http://www.samolet.co.uk/
Shiner, Linda. "Heroes Welcome." Air & Space. (June/July 1998). http://www.centercomp.com/cgi-bin/dc3/stories?1931
"Showcase Corona." Central Intelligence Agency Directorate of Science and Technology. http://www.cia.gov/cia/dst/showcase.html
"Soviet Women Pilots in the Great Patriotic War." http://pratt.edu/~rsilva/sovwomen.htm
"Space Race: Military Origins." www.nasm.si.edu/galleries/gal114/SpaceRace/sec200/sec200.htm
"Spanish Civil War." Encyclopedia Britannica On-Line. http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=70775&tocid=0.
Supercarrier Page. National Museum of Naval Aviation: http://www.naval-aviation.org/education/know_supercarrier.asp
Third Reich Factbook: http://www.skalman.nu/third-reich/
340th Bombardment Group History: http://members.tripod.com/jkoppie/340.htm
"Thunder Gods & Kamikazes." http://www.wtj.com/articles/kamikaze
"The Tuskegee Airmen at Afro-Americ@." http://www.afroam.org/history/tusk/tuskmain.html
"United States Signal Corps." Aviation Aeroweb History. http://www.aero-web/org/history/usase.htm.
"USAF in Europe: The Berlin Airlift." http://www.usafe.af.mil/berlin/berlin.htm
Vietnam War Gallery. U.S. Air Force Museum. http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/vietnam/vietnam.htm
"WASPs in World War II." http://www.wasp-wwii.org
"Women’s Air Force Service Pilots." http://afftc.edwards.af.mil/articles98/docs_html/splash/feb98/cover/wasp.html
Winston Churchill Homepage: http://www.winstonchurchill.org
Wolk, Herman S. "Revolt of the Admirals" from Air Force Magazine Online. May 1988. http://www.afa.org/magazine/perspectives/0588revolt.html.
"World War I Aces." Military Aviation Archives. www.militaryaviation.com/ace-ww1.html
World War I Aviation. http://www.wwiaviation.com
World War I Aviation Page: http://members.tripod.com/~Whitehead/
World War I Bomber Page: http://www.wwiaviation.com/bombers.shtml
"World War II in the Pacific." U.S. Air Force Museum. http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/wwii/combatp.htm
Wraga, William. "Curtiss-Wright and the Flying Tigers." Curtiss-Wright Corporation. http://www.curtisswright.com/history/1937-1942.asp.
Wray, Major Timothy A. "Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front During World War II - Prewar to March 1943." http://www-cgsc.army.mil/carl/resources/csi/Wray/wray.asp
Ziemke, Earl F. "German Invasion of the U.S.S.R. Grolier Online. http://gi.grolier.com/wwii/wwii%5F6.html
Museums and Other Organizations.
Air Force History Support Office: http://www.airforcehistory.hq.af.mil
Air Mobility Command Museum: http://www.ancmuseum.org
Airlift/ Tanker Association: http://www.atalink.org
American Air Museum: http://www.iwm.org.uk/duxford/aam.htm
Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation: http://www.avialantic.com/bahf.html
Berlin Airlift Veterans Association: http://www.konnections.com/airlift/index.html
Centre for Defence & International Security Studies: http://www.cdiss.org/hometemp.htm
Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters. http://www.capnhq.gov/
82nd Airborne Official Site: http://www.bragg.army.mil/www-82DV/
Fleet Air Arm Museum: http://www.fleetairarm.com
International Liaison Pilot and Aircraft Association. http://www.centercomp.com/ILPA/index.html
James H. Doolittle Library: http://www.utdallas.edu/library/special/jdlttl.html.
League of World War One Aviation Historians: http://www.overthefront.com.
Mighty Eighth Air Force Heritage Museum: http://www.mighty8thmuseum.com.
National Museum of Naval Aviation: http://www.naval-air.org
Tuskegee Airmen National Museum: http://pw1.netcom.com/~chehaw/taimuseum.htm
Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.: http://members.aol.com/hqtai/tai/nofram.html#99th
U.S. Air Force Museum Tuskegee Airmen: http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/prewwii/ta.htm
U.S. Air Force Museum: http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum
U.S. Navy Historical Center: http://www.history.navy.mil/index.html
University of West Texas Library, WASP Archives: http://www.twu.edu/library/womans/womansc/wasp.htm
USS Forrestal Museum: http://www.forrestal.org