Wingless Eagle: U.S. Army Aviation through World War I

Synopsis

At the start of the twentieth century the United States led the world in advances in aviation, with the first successful engine-powered flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and Dayton, Ohio, beginning in 1903. Fifteen years later, however, American airmen flew European-designed aircraft because American planes were woefully inadequate for service on the Western Front. Why was the United States so poorly prepared to engage in aerial combat in World War I?

To answer this question, Herbert Johnson takes a hard look at the early years of U.S. military aviation, exploring the cultural, technical, political, and organizational factors that stunted its evolution. Among the recurring themes of Johnson's narrative are the damaging effects of a chronic lack of governmental funding for military aeronautics and the disruptive influence of a civilian "aeronaut constituency" both on military discipline and on public and Congressional attitudes toward army aviation. In addition, the Wright brothers' patent litigation hindered the technical development of American aircraft and crippled the domestic aviation industry's manufacturing capacity. Wartime experience helped correct some of these problems, but the persistence of others left the postwar Air Service with an uncertain and stormy future.