Spitfire versus Messerschmitt in the skies above Britain
Aviation has captured the imagination of humanity since the Wright brothers took to the skies for the first time in 1903. But like every other great human invention, it would not take long before some military use would be found for it. When World War I began in 1914 most air forces consisted of a few scouts, but by the time it ended in 1918 the air arsenals of the great powers would be composed of thousands of fighters and bombers. World War II would see air power reach its full maturity; the war would see the first battle waged entirely in the skies (the Battle of Britain), thousand-bomber raids over Europe, the first jets, and most ominously, the dropping of an atomic bomb by an aircraft. Air technology expanded by leaps and bounds during the Cold War as each of the two superpowers strove to achieve a technological edge over its rival. By the end of the 20th Century, air technology would finally make it possible for a war to be won by air power alone, as shown by the 1991 Gulf War in which a US-led air armada laid waste to Saddam Hussein’s vaunted armies, which had once been considered the fourth most powerful in the world.
Despite the destructive nature of air power, it has nevertheless been romanticized throughout the years as evidenced by the glamorous image of the fighter pilot. So much that the US Navy set up recruitment booths outside movie theaters following the success of Top Gun back in 1984! But Tom Cruise’s heroics on the silver screen pales in comparison to reality. So without further ado, here are the 10 most legendary true air combat rivalries in history. Continue reading
The Chinese dragon takes wings
Since their debut in the closing months of World War II, jet fighters have represented the zenith of aviation technology for nearly 70 years and a nation’s air power is intrinsically linked to the quantity and the quality of its fighter arsenals. In those seven decades, fighters have evolved into sophisticated weapons of war, capable of flying day and night in all weather faster than the speed of sound, of performing a myriad of duties such as bombing, electronic warfare and reconnaissance, and of incorporating technologies that only yesterday would have seemed straight out of a science fiction movie such as stealth and helmet-mounted sights. More importantly, they’re friggin’ awesome, as the droves of moviegoers who tried to enlist in the US Navy after watching Top Gun proved. If you’re still not convinced, just go to an air show to hear the roar of jet fighter’s engine, or the crack of its sonic boom, and you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.
But aside from its glamor, air power has evolved into an essential component of modern warfare since World War II, to the point that many strategists consider it to be capable of winning wars on its own (I disagree but this is another story). Certainly the four-day ground campaign which defeated the Iraqi Army in the first Gulf War would have not been so quick and overwhelming had the US and Coalition air forces not pounded it into near-submission for various weeks. But what does the future behold for air power? Will the West’s technological lead over its adversaries, so dramatically shown in the recent conflicts in the Middle East and Yugoslavia, endure in the coming decades or is the balance of power and technology shifting elsewhere? What better way than to see the evolution of fighter aircraft since the first jets took to the skies. Continue reading