Thursday, January 10, 2013

Flight Journal 04/2012

IN GLANCING OVER THIS ISSUE one thought crossed my mind, "Almost every single word deals with men in airplanes putting themselves in harm's way all for the good of the rest of us." Whether it's the heroic actions of fighter pilots who have been awarded the Medal of Honor, individual bomber crew members who saw every battle from a different perspective, yet shared in a common destiny, or members of our Border Patrol and Customs Service who fight battles on our borders on a daily basis, we're talking about men and women to whom we owe a debt we can't possibly pay. Medal of Honor recipients often are surprised to find themselves being awarded our nation's highest honor. Almost to a man they utter the same words, "I was just doing my job as I saw it." However, one of the precepts of the award is that the individual went far and above and beyond " ... just doing a job." Some have put themselves in situations they were unlikely to survive, strictly to save the lives of others. Barrett Tillman, who has detailed the actions of Medal of Honor recipients in his book Above and Beyond: The Aviation Medals of Honor, focuses on a small slice of those who have demonstrated MoH-worthy actions, WW II fighter pilots in his article, "Medal of Honor Fighters." At the same time, he goes back to the beginning of aviation and outlines the actions of the 27 fighter pilots who were judged worthy of the award since the beginning.


Is there a more iconic figure in history, folklore and/or legend than the fighter ace? It could be argued that the Old West gunfighters fall into that category. Or knights of yore. But, they somehow don't "feel" the same. It's difficult to identify with historical characters like cowboys and knights because they are just that: historical. They belong to a time long past. Not so the fighter ace. They still walk amongst us. They are flesh and bone and, even though most are aging, we can revisit their world courtesy of film and audio. And thus, we can more easily identify with them. Gunfighters and knights have been so fictionalized, we no longer see ourselves in their shoes/boots/armor. But, at some point in their flying career, every single pilot who is granted a license has fighter pilot fantasies. When we started putting this issue together, there was an awful temptation to stick with the tried-and-true: the Dick Bongs, Pappy Boyingtons, etc. They are superstars in the aviation publishing game: big names always sell magazines. But we didn't want to go the "me too" route. There were too many aces who were wildly overshadowed by those whose names we now know well, yet the difference may be only a few victories one way or the other. So, we decided to tell stories that haven't been told a million times and introduce our readers to pilots they may not know.