A pictorial history of aviation between the World Wars.
Aviation Century The Golden Age is filled with tales of romance and adventure, of daring and bravado, as pilots break records, astound the public and prepare for war on a global scale. Their achievements became the stuff of legend, and their aircraft revered artifacts of a Golden Age.
Between the World Wars a new wave of aviation pioneers took the technological advances forged in the heat of battle and applied them to aircraft in exciting new ways. An unprecedented growth in the manufacture of affordable light aircraft occurred, providing ambitious, extraordinary individuals with the means to conquer the sky.
Aviators raced to be the first to fly over oceans, cross jungles and ice caps, look down on the continents' highest peaks, and travel distances faster than ever before. Many aviators died trying to achieve aeronautical immortality.
Aerial daredevils entertained a wide audience through flying circuses and air shows. The spirit of adventure thrived after World War II with larger air shows and more thrilling aerobatics.
In this book Dan Patterson's photographs of preserved and restored aircraft in museum and private collections are combined with rare archival photographs.
Forewords for Aviation Century The Golden Age are by aviation legends Alex Henshaw and Tom Poberezny.
About the Author
Ron Dick served with the Royal Air Force for thirty-eight years, retiring as an Air Vice-Marshal. During his career, he flew sixty different types of aircraft, accumulating over 5,000 hours of flight time. In addition to the five-volume Aviation Century series, he has co-authored five other books with Dan Patterson. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Dan Patterson is the recipient of the first annual Combs Award, presented by the National Aviation Hall of Fame and business aviation legend Harry Combs to honor a photographer's contribution to the preservation of America's air and space heritage. Patterson's images are featured in fourteen books. He lives in Dayton, Ohio
Table of Contents
Acknowledgments Foreword by Alex Henshaw Foreword by Tom Poberezny Photographer's Preface by Dan Patterson Introduction by Air Vice-Marshal Ron Dick
Chapter 1 Military Aviation Between the Wars
Chapter 2 The Aerial Adventurers
Chapter 3 The Entertainers: Air Shows and Artifacts
Bibliography Index by Subject General Index
When Dan Patterson and I began the Aviation Century series six years ago, we knew that the second volume, The Golden Age, would be the most rewarding for us to work on. The period between the World Wars was a time when aviators could aspire to be the first to achieve something new in flying. Aeronautical frontiers beckoned the brave on every side, and success in flight was largely a matter of being prepared to take risks to push them back. The various archives we explored offered up a host of treasured photographs, and Dan's cameras searched out and recorded images of hundreds of priceless aircraft in the museums of nine countries. Added to these are works of art generously contributed by the world's most accomplished aviation artists. In writing the text to tell the story of aerial adventures in the 1920s and 1930s, I was continually reminded of the courage and determination of the men and women who flew where none had ever flown,
reaching heights and speeds hardly dreamt of only a few short years before. To play their part, aircraft designers and builders devised new shapes and techniques, breaking down the barriers of flight by trial and sometimes tragic error. While civil aviators sought adventure, air forces proliferated worldwide and military aircraft often led the way in aeronautical achievement. The nature of air power was a subject of great debate throughout the period, and theory began to meet practice in a number of conflicts, most notably in China and Spain. The expansion of aviation in every direction was dramatic during the inter-war period, and its history is studded with great names John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, Charles Lindbergh and Richard Byrd, Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart, Donald Douglas and Leslie Mitchell, and hundreds more. It has been a privilege to research their stories for this volume of the Aviation Century series. Their achievements are woven into the fabric of aviation's true Golden Age.
Air Vice-Marshal Ron Dick
"There was no time to aim carefully It was turn, attack, aim at the red circle, press the buttons, pull out, gain some height, turn back, get the next one in front of one's guns." Günther "Franzl" Lützow, in an account of air combat during the Spanish Civil War, 1937.
This second volume of the Aviation Century series reveals the explosive development of aviation in the 1920s and 1930s. From 1918 onward, it became possible for the pure appeal of flying to the human spirit to be given wider expression. Flying ushered in the promise of three-dimensional freedom and challenged the adventurous to go ever faster, higher and further. Aircraft opened up new fields of exploration and brought the modern world closer to those living in remote areas. In some cases, the intrusion of the aircraft was far from welcome, since it came to enforce discipline among the unruly, or to change an ancient way of life forever. From the outset, the imagination of the general public was caught by the drama and romance of all this, and aviators' exploits often brought an element of excitement to the world's headlines.
For military aviators, the end of WWI proved to be a two-edged sword. Any post-WWI euphoria over the part played in the Allied victory by the air services was short-lived. Defense budgets were eviscerated and little money was available to continue the development of military aviation, particularly in the face of open hostility from the established services. For more than a decade, front-line squadrons everywhere continued to fly aircraft that strongly resembled those of 1918. Air power theories were expounded, and frequently accepted, but were unsupported by empirical evidence and were often proved unsound by the events of later years. In the 1930s,
people were forced to confront the unthinkable the prospect of a second world conflict only two decades after the "war to end all wars." Military aviation belatedly attracted funds, and dress rehearsals in Spain and China pointed the way to the future of war in the air. Open-cockpit biplanes were replaced by fast, heavily armed, metal monoplanes with enclosed cabins, and the threat of air assault on civilian populations was seen to be terrifyingly real.
There were many barriers for aviation to overcome in the years immediately following WWI. Most people still thought of flying as a great adventure, something normal folks did not do. Aircraft were fearsome creations and those who flew them, military or civilian, were superhuman daredevils. The barnstormers, a host of newly trained ex-military pilots flying surplus military aircraft, encouraged this view. It helped them to earn a precarious living by thrilling the public with outrageous airborne stunts. The shows they gave grew in time into spectacular flying circuses, in the process introducing flying machines to a wider audience. Safety regulations eventually tamed the barnstormers, but air shows nevertheless became an established part of the world's aeronautical calendar, bringing together public entertainment and commercial activity.
One notable aspect of flight has always been its promise of increased speed. From the earliest days, racing aircraft against one another was a popular sport. Some races, such as the Bendix Trophy in the U.S. or the England-Australia air race of 1934, were flown over long distances, but other races were flown over closed circuits at low level, with crowds cheering below. Whatever its form, air racing provided a competitive spur that helped to encourage aeronautical development, both civil and military, between the wars.
For many fliers, demonstrating their prowess in front of an air show crowd was not nearly enough. Aircraft offered them the chance to reach other parts of the world quickly, and to penetrate unknown regions by jumping over previously impenetrable barriers. The 1920s and 1930s were the Golden Age of flight, when trail-blazing men and women accepted astonishing challenges, often in fragile machines of limited capability. Despite the hazards and the price paid in lost lives, oceans and continents were crossed, and the polar regions conquered. Global point-to-point records were set up by pilots of limited experience in light aircraft, using basic navigation aids and flying into regions where few people had seen a flying machine and facilities were scarce. The competition to be first or fastest was fierce, and many aviators died trying to achieve aeronautical immortality. Those who achieved their goal and lived to tell the tale gained international celebrity and became as well known as film stars and leading politicians. Their globe-circling efforts made the world a smaller place, bringing every human society within reach of every other.
As the 20th century progressed, the fabric of the aviation story grew ever richer, woven together with tales of brave or foolhardy fliers and patterned with designs of increasingly capable aircraft. A clear need emerged not only to record aviators' deeds but also to care for aeronautical artifacts aircraft, flying clothing, maps, charts, propellers, navigation equipment, engines, photographs and so on.
The people and machines associated with human flight became the inspiration for thousands of books and limitless images, and museums were created to preserve the paperwork and hardware of aviation. Enthusiasts did their bit by restoring old aircraft to flying condition, making it possible for younger generations to experience the sights and sounds of an earlier aviation age.
This volume of Aviation Century tells a tale of romance and adventure, of daring and bravado. Aviators shrink the world and prepare for war on a global scale. The stories of their achievements become the stuff of legend, and their machines are revered as artifacts of a Golden Age.
Ron Dick Fredericksburg, Virginia January 2004