According to the history books, the most famous air ace in history, Manfred von Richthofen, “The Red Baron”, was shot down near Amiens in France on April 21, 1918, by Canadian ace Roy Brown. But modern analysis shows that the history books are almost certainly wrong . . .
Manfred von Richthofen
Continue reading Who Really Shot Down the Red Baron? →
In one of the most unusual flying careers of the Second World War, French fighter pilot Pierre Le Gloan became an ace fighting against the Axis–and then became an ace fighting against the Allies.
French pilot Pierre Le Gloan and his Dewoitine D.520 fighter, in Vichy livery.
Continue reading Pierre Le Gloan: Ace for Both Sides →
By 1943, it was becoming apparent that the standard propeller-driven piston-engine aircraft was reaching the limits of its potential speed. At the same time, though, Nazi Germany was facing daily raids by American and British bombers, and needed ever-faster planes with ever-higher altitudes to fight back. In the race to increase speed and power, unconventional designs were looked at, and one of the oddest was the Dornier Do335 “Pfeil” fighter, which had two propellers–one mounted in front and one at the back.
The Dornier Do 335 A “Pfeil” fighter, on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center
Continue reading The Pfeil Fighter: Push-Me Pull-You →
Since the 1920’s, futuristic scifi novels and films depicted humans zipping around sky cities in flying cars. Several dreamers even produced designs for cars that could be converted into airplanes and vice versa. The first of these to be certified by the FAA was the “Airphibian”, the brainchild of an amateur designer who taught himself aeronautics from a book.
The Fulton FA-3-101 Airphibian, on display at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center.
Continue reading The Airphibian: The Car That Flies →
The highest-scoring American ace in history was Richard Bong, who had 40 air victories flying P-38 Lightnings in the Pacific Theater during World War Two. The most famous of the air aces, the “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen, had 80 air victories during the First World War. But the highest-scoring air ace of all time remains largely unknown to most Americans, perhaps because he flew for the Nazis. Erich Hartmann, flying a Messerschmitt Bf-109 on the Russian Front in the Second World War, scored an incredible 352 air victories, making him the most successful fighter pilot in history.
Continue reading Erich Hartmann: The Real Top Gun →
Everyone knows that the first manned airplane flight was made in December 1903, by two obscure bicycle manufacturers from Ohio named Wilbur and Orville Wright. But many people don’t know that the Wright Brothers had competition, and one of the most famous scientists in the country, with generous government financing, was also attempting to get into the air. His last attempt was on December 8, 1903–just nine days before the Wright Brothers . . .
The Langley Aerodrome A, on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center
Continue reading The Langley Aerodrome A: The Story of “Almost” →
It was a nightmare scenario for NASA’s moon mission planners–a human triumph turning into tragedy as space-borne moon germs, brought back by astronauts, swept the Earth and killed all terrestrial life with a lethal unstoppable disease. To prevent it, NASA developed a Space Age motor home trailer for astronauts called the Mobile Quarantine Facility.
The Mobile Quarantine facility, on display at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center
Continue reading The Mobile Quarantine Facility: Protecting the Earth From Moon Bugs →
In January 1942, Japan was riding high. It had control of most of the Pacific, and its attack on the US Navy at Pearl Harbor had been a severe blow. But Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese Navy, knew that he had not won yet. He needed some way to take the battle to the American mainland, to terrorize the American people and convince them that negotiating a peace was preferable to a long and bloody war.
The method he chose to attack the US mainland was one of the oddest ships ever built–the aircraft-carrier submarine.
Seiran bomber on display at the Smithsonian collection.
Continue reading Japan’s WW2 Submarine Aircraft Carrier →
Launched in June 2003, the Beagle 2 Mars probe was intended to put British science back onto the world’s scientific map, by searching Mars for signs of present or past life. But things didn’t quite turn out as planned . . .
The Mars probe Beagle 2, in the London Museum of Science.
Continue reading The Beagle Hasn’t Landed: The Story of the British Mars Probe “Beagle 2” →
On December 17, 1903, two bicycle manufacturers from Dayton, Ohio, stood on a windy beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and tossed a coin. While the winner, Orville Wright, positioned himself inside a flimsy machine, made of wood and cloth, his brother Wilbur started up their homemade gasoline engine. Moments later, the rickety contraption rolled along a metal guide rail, then, as it gained speed, it left the ground and flew about ten feet above the sand for twelve seconds, covering a distance of 120 feet.
The age of flight had begun.
A new type of combat had also been born, though the world’s leading military establishments were not quick to see it.
Roland Garros, the first fighter ace.
Continue reading World War One and the Birth of Aerial Warfare →
By 1944, it was becoming clear to the military leaders of Japan that the war was lost, unless there was a miracle. So, they decided to create a miracle–or, more accurately, to re-create one. In the 13th century, Mongol invasions of Japan were thwarted when a fierce typhoon struck and destroyed the Mongol fleet. In late 1944, the Japanese military turned to suicide air attacks to help beat back the US forces that were approaching Japan. The result was the Kamikaze (“Divine Wind”) forces. And the pinnacle of the Kamikaze forces was the MXY-7 “Ohka” piloted bomb, the only plane in the world that was deliberately designed to kill its pilot.
The Ohka piloted bomb, on display at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center
Continue reading Ohka: The Only Airplane Deliberately Designed to Kill Its Pilot →