American Military Aircraft 1908-1919

By Romito, Joseph | Air Power History, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

American Military Aircraft 1908-1919


Romito, Joseph, Air Power History


American Military Aircraft 1908-1919. By Robert B. Casari. Marceline MO: Walsworth Publishing Company, 2014. Tables. Illustrations. Photographs. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 752. $99.95. ISBN: 978-1-935881-13-1

A quick glance at the title suggests that this is a book about US-designed or US-built aircraft used by American units in the early days of military aviation. But Casari's scope is much broader than that. In this massive work, he sets out to tell the history of every aircraft type placed on order by the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy during that period, whether or not the aircraft were actually acquired or even actually flown. Thus, he addresses nearly 300 models and variants, and for each he gives us a history of its technical development, delivery, operational employment, and, in many cases, eventual disposition. This is the content that occupies most of the book, and it is impressive in both the breadth and depth of its coverage. Relatively minor aircraft, many of which might be unfamiliar to most readers, are addressed in a few concise paragraphs. But for more significant types--such as the U.S.-built de Havilland DH-4 and aircraft from Curtiss, Nieuport, SPAD, and the Royal Aircraft Factory--the coverage is extensive.

Leading into the plane-by-plane histories, Casari provides two well-structured sections--one each for the Army and Navy--that provide essential context and background information to help the reader understand the stories of the individual aircraft types. For each service he discusses aircraft development programs before America's entry into the war in April 1917, production programs in the U.S., and how combat aircraft were acquired and deployed. These sections establish the two themes that run throughout the book. The first and most important is that the entry of Army and Navy aviation into the war was so challenging that although the U.S. was officially engaged in the war for 19 months, U.S. aviation units didn't make significant contributions until the last few months of the conflict. The second is that poorly documented and misunderstood history has led to misconceptions of the situation as it truly existed.

There were many reasons for America's initial ineffectiveness, and Casari discusses them bluntly and at length. These included insufficient numbers of pilots and airplanes in the Signal Corps' Aviation Section; lack of an organizational structure to plan for and execute the growth and deployment of American aviation elements; almost total ineffectiveness of the U.S. aircraft manufacturing industry in producing aircraft suitable for combat; poor performance of European allies in providing design documents and sample airplanes, once it was decided that the U. …

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