The Dark Ages of Strategic Airlift: The Propeller Era. - Air Power History

The Dark Ages of Strategic Airlift: The Propeller Era.

By Air Power History

  • Release Date: 2003-09-22
  • Genre: Engineering


Of the many facets of air power, airlift gets less than its fair share of attention. Only recently has interest shifted away from solely bomb dropping to other aspects of military aviation. Unlike any other country, and fitting for the world's lone superpower, today America has a large and effective organization able to transport heavy cargo and troops great distances. Strategic airlift adds "global reach" to American power and capabilities. But this has not always been the case. The history of American airlift can be divided into two phases. During the first fifty years or so of aviation airlift was low in priority, unappreciated, and thus neglected. During this time, American airmen had a pecking order that put the delivery of bombs and bullets well above all other functions of air power. Consequently members of the "combat" arms, had a corner on both the glamour of flying and advancement. Another factor that degraded airlift was that in contrast to fighters and bombers that flew a distinctive air force mission, airlift served as a support function. The status of airlift can be gauged further by two measures. First, transports were not an assignment of choice for newly graduated pilots. (1) Second, airlift status was clearly reflected in the equipment of the air lifters. While modern, cutting edge equipment went to the bomber and fighter units, the transport command soldiered on with equipment no better than, and increasingly (in the mid to late 1950s) inferior to, the airlines. But toward the end of that decade, there were signs that decision makers wanted to improve America's airlift capabilities. This trend began during the second Eisenhower administration, but can be clearly seen (in the airmen's expressive language, "with rubber on the ramp") in the 1960s. What follows is a discussion of this period of prop airlift, when airlift was neglected: The Dark Ages. (2)