Book Review — Skies of Fire: Dramatic Air Combat

Skies of Fire: Dramatic Air Combat by Alfred Price is a collection of twenty-two war time aviation stories. Price served as an aircrew officer in the Royal Air Force and, during a flying career spanning fifteen years, he logged some 4,000 flying hours. He holds a PhD in history from Loughborough University, is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and compiles aviation questions for the popular BBC programme Mastermind.

Skies of Fire picks twenty-two stories over a hundred years of military aviation. From the biplane to drones, Price chooses stories or remarkable aviation deeds, but are not the ones we commonly hear of. There is no Flying Circus, no Enola Gay, no Vulcan 607. Instead, these are stories that have slipped through the cracks of common knowledge.

We are introduced to the De Havilland DH-4 bomber, not the Fokker Triplane. It began service as a bomber and was later used by the United States as an airmail plane. Early carrier experimentation is covered as well as a mission to land Spitfires on Malta in WWII to bolster Allied air power. A chapter is given to the America’s ugliest but most versatile aircraft the A-10. It was just last year air force A-10 pilots received medals from the Marine Corps for providing close air support saving the lives of Marine special operations team. The A-10 found itself in the Gulf war spending more time attacking ground targets than providing support for ground troops.

The Vulcan is mentioned in an attack that occurred after the famed Vulcan 607 mission to take out the runway on Port Stanley. This mission was to knock out Argentinian air defenses that had been hampering Harrier missions. The Vulcan proved its worth and the pilot managed to save the plane from disaster.

Two chapter are devoted to unmanned operations. The German V2 rocket and the current drones are each given a chapter. Although technological marvels of their time, they lack the mystique and the bravery of pilots.

Price shows that heroism in the skies during wartime extends beyond the few stories we hear repeated. Taking nothing away from the stories of the Flying Circus, Doolittle’s raid, MiG Alley, and the helicopter pilots of Vietnam, Price adds to the distinguished history of pilots and their aircraft.

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