Flying Warbirds – Book Review
I hate coffee-table books. These are the books I normally avoid during my frequent trips to the local bookstore. I find most coffee-table books are too general, too simplistic or too poorly written to be of interest. The authors favor flashy photos over substance, offering little in the way of new information or analysis. I expected Flying Warbirds to be just another book of glossy photos and trite facts, the sort one normally finds in the bargain rack discounted well below the original price. After perusing the first few pages, however, it became readily apparent I had misjudged this book. Flying Warbirds is not just another throw-away book on WWII aircraft. Rather, this is the story of how Microsoft co-founder and military enthusiast Paul G. Allen created a non-profit organization, dubbed the Flying Heritage Collection, dedicated to preserving historically significant WWII–era warplanes. And this is no ordinary collection of planes gathering dust as static displays in a museum. These airplanes live. These airplanes fly.
Author Cory Graf is the Flying Heritage Collection’s Military Aviation Historian and intimately familiar with both the museum and its collection. Graff’s writing style is simple and direct with an easy, conversational tone. He profiles two different aircraft from the FHC’s museum in each chapter, beginning with the dependable JN-4D Jenny and concluding with Nazi Germany’s nascent attempts at jet-powered fighters. Many of the airplanes are paired together as wartime rivals—for example, the Chinese theater’s Curtiss P40C Tomahawk and the Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar. Each airplane biography describes the history and unique features of the model in general as well as stories of the individual planes within the Flying Heritage Collection. Tracing the life history of an individual airplane, particularly during wartime, is no small feat; to have so many such biographies is testimony to FHC staff’s dedication to their work. The museum employees’ and volunteers’ love of the airplanes is apparent on every page. Of course, Flying Warbirds includes dozens of beautiful photographs depicting the airplanes rather busy schedule of flights, maintenance, combat performance, recovery and restoration.
Amazingly, most of the aircraft were painstakingly rebuilt from wrecked hulks to their original, and historically accurate, appearance. Many of the collection’s aircraft suffered wartime damage or were outright abandoned in the chaos of global conflict. FHC’s staff of mechanics and historians spares no expense returning their airplanes to “showroom condition” complete with the appropriate language data plates, wartime paint schemes, unit markings and other minute details. The German-built Bf-109, for example, crashed on a French beach during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Time, tide and weather gradually buried the plane. For nearly 50 years, the wreck lay hidden until an astute observer noted an exposed wingtip jutting from the sand. Despite the long years of harsh exposure to the elements, the FHC restored the Bf-109 to flying condition. Regular flying demonstrations are the norm at the FHC, with only a few aircraft such as the Me-163 Komet and Ki-43 deemed too rare to fly. Even these planes, however, are fully restored to flight specifications.
I learned a valuable lesson from Flying Warbirds, namely, don’t judge a book by its cover. Aviation historian enthusiasts, WWII buffs, fans of the FHC, or even scale modelers will enjoy Flying Warbirds. Buy this book before it ends up in the discount aisle—it may sell out without being discounted. Readers wishing to view the collection in person should visit the FHC’s website at www.flyingheritage.com. The museum is located on Paine Field in Everett, Washington.
(ArmchairGeneral.com ran a feature on the Flying Heritage Collection back in 2008.—Editor)
Lieutenant Colonel Christopher J. Heatherly enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1994 and earned his commission via Officer Candidate School in 1997. He has held a variety of assignments in special operations, Special Forces, armored, and cavalry units. His operational experience includes deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Kuwait, Mali, and Nigeria. He holds master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the School of Advanced Military Studies.
The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the United States Army.