Officers in Flightsuits: The Story of American Air Force Fighter Pilots in the Korean War

Article excerpt

Officers in Flightsuits: The Story of American Air Force Fighter Pilots in the Korean War. John Darrell Sherwood. New York, NY: New York University Press, 1996.

The aviation history of the Korean war has fallen into two categories. The first being a highly popular account of aerial warfare revolving around heroic narrative themes. The other creates an analytical framework which conveys historical data but does not analyze social and cultural aspects. John Sherwood has employed a method of analysis that integrates social and cultural factors into the study of Korea's air war. This socio-military study of United States Air Force fighter pilots during the Korean air war is a highly readable and well researched book.

In the recent past, aviation history of the Korean conflict has been dominated by studies that focus on strategic, tactical and operational aspects of the aerial war. Aviation historiography of Korea's aerial war has been well-served by Robert Futrell (The United States Air Force in Korea, 1950-1953) and Richard Hallion (The Naval Air War in Korea), who have covered the operational and tactical roles played by the United States Air Force and United States Navy. Sherwood's work fills the gap by producing a socio-miltary contexts of the United States Air Force, and especially the work and life of the fighter pilots of the Korean war.

Sherwood focuses on what he calls the "flight suit attitude" as a cultural perspective. Of this central theme, Mr. Sherwood writes, "(a) flight suit attitude was not simply an expression of machismo, it was a means of psychological survival in a danger-filled environment" (38) of pilot training and aerial combat over the wartorn skies of Korea. The story unfolds, creating an interesting and scholarly historical analysis. Sherwood's chapters on pilot training promulgate the theme of the flight suit attitude, "(T)he fear, the challenges, and dangers of learning to fly, in the end, would enable these men to transcend distinction in military status and become a unified band of brothers" (46). …