Airpower Pioneers

From Billy Mitchell to Dave Deptula

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Airpower Pioneers studies twelve especially influential airmen, detailing their impact on the evolution of the United States Air Force (USAF). Rather than focus on command in a series of air campaigns, this book describes the personal qualities and careers of people who distinguished themselves first and foremost by advancing airpower theory, doctrine, and strategy, and in certain cases by implementing significant organizational changes in the USAF structure. Some held important positions during wartime, but except for a few who excelled in both combat and peace, those selected for inclusion in this volume made their main contributions to advancing aerospace power away from the front line as planners, organizers, educators, and strategists.  
The future of aerospace power requires airmen not only to push the limits in combat but also to emphasize, publicly and frequently, what is special and vital about airpower. The distinctive characteristics of airpower—speed, range, flexibility, precision, and lethality—have improved with every new generation of aircraft and weapon systems. The history of modern warfare is full of empirical evidence of airpower’s relevance. Looking ahead, the main challenge for air forces all over the world is to match advances in technology with new ideas. All air forces need visionary men and women whose reach exceeds their grasp, who are determined to adapt to new security and defense realities rather than adhere to romanticized ideas of yesteryear, and whose organizational skills ensure successful implementation of new ideas despite inevitable resistance to change.  


About the Author

Editorial Reviews

“John Olsen and his team of co-authors have produced a rare gem of a book, a collection of well-chosen incisive biographical essays on the key figures who birthed and nurtured American air and space power. It is at once an intriguing survey of their contributions, the challenges they faced, and their place in history, and an important benchmark textbook for training those who aspire to be future air and space commanders. It will be a standard reference for decades to come, and, quite simply should be on the shelf of every air and space professional.” —General (ret.) Philip M Breedlove, USAF, 17th Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO

“This book is a powerhouse of biographies, written by first-class authors who know how to put personal achievements into perspective and context. Most advances in airpower theory and practice are results of collective efforts, but progress also requires intellectual and organizational visionaries who see beyond the immediate challenges and seize the moment for change. All twelve airmen in this book, from Mitchell to Deptula, deserve a place in the USAF Hall of Fame. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to better comprehend the development of air and space power.” General (ret.) T. Michael Moseley, 18th Chief of Staff, USAF

“I have worked with Dr. John Olsen for the past quarter of a century. He has a unique talent that captures the vital lessons of modern warfare.  His latest effort outlines the eternal truths of past air leaders that are even more important today to all forms of armed conflict.  It is required reading for all who wish to understand how success can be achieved in the battlespace of tomorrow, by learning from these leaders who embraced change to move the Air Force forward.” —General (ret.) Charles A. Horner, USAF, Joint Force Air Component Commander, Gulf War of 1991

“Some were mavericks, some were mentors, some were missionaries. But all were airpower visionaries, unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom and unabashed in voicing their convictions despite threats of personal and professional backlash. Airpower Pioneers: From Billy Mitchell to Dave Deptula provides insight into what motivated these airmen and their ideas that have helped mold the concept, structure and application of U.S. airpower today.” —General (ret.) Michael E. Ryan, 16th Chief of the U.S. Air Force

“The unique feature that airpower brings to the national security table is its ability to reach out and deliver military effects within hours or even minutes. John Olsen has again assembled a highly valuable set of sketches describing some of the thinkers, planners and analysts who understood this uniqueness and used it to shape the development of the vision, the concepts, the technology and the institution of the USAF itself over the past 100 years. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to better understand the airpower profession and the U.S. Air Force’s impact on history.” —General (ret.) Michael J. Dugan, 13th Chief of the U.S. Air Force

“Olsen has produced a timely and well-researched compendium of short biographies of the airpower pioneers who made the most significant contributions to the development of airpower in the United States and in some cases around the world. Their contributions led directly to the founding and growth of the United States Air Force. The authors of the biographical sketches of Mitchell, Arnold, Hansell, Vandenberg, LeMay, Schriever, Kent, Jones, Creech, Warden, McPeak and Deptula do an excellent job of narrating their personal growth and development and the contributions each of these airmen made to military aviation. During my career I had the opportunity to meet and work with, or for, nine of the twelve individuals. While I thought I generally understood the roles they played and the contributions they made, as a result of reading this volume, I became aware of things about them and their contributions that I did not know or appreciate. I recommend this book be part of any serious professional reading list for Airmen and other military professionals.” —Gen (ret.) Ronald R. Fogleman, 15th Chief of the U.S. Air Force

“Congratulations to John Olsen for his latest seminal work capturing the true essence of history’s airpower champions. Airpower Pioneers beautifully describes each leader’s contributions as they moved entire nations forward in the evolution of the most asymmetric advantage in warfare. Each leader was both tireless and relentless in pursuit of the virtues and values of airpower. Each became known as the airpower architect of his age. And like Billy Mitchell, all will be remembered long after they pass on for their unparalleled contributions to Air Forces across the globe.” —General (ret.) David L. Goldfein, 21st Chief of the U.S. Air Force

“In this seminal work, Airpower Pioneers: From Billy Mitchell to Dave Deptula, Dr. Olsen and his gifted compatriots take the reader on a whirlwind tour that reveals the many fathers of the United States Air Force. Here you meet the men who brought this nascent capability from its infancy to where it is today, the world’s preeminent air and space power. In these pages we see the clash of ideas, egos, and power, both military and political, and the blood and treasure expended in a never-ending attempt to “get it right.” This work is a must read for anyone who cares about the personalities and people who powered the Air Force and propelled it into the future.” —Colonel (ret.) Richard T. Reynolds, USAF, Author of Heart of the Storm

“From the beginning of the Aerial Age in 1903, nothing guaranteed U.S. preeminence in the air. From then until today, it has been only the vision, intellectual reasoning and persuasive powers of a succession of notable air force leaders that propelled America to its foremost standing as a predominant air power. Airpower Pioneers is an insightful and indispensable anthology that highlights the personal attributes and transforming experiences of those most responsible for shaping the aerospace nation we have become.” —Ernest Snowden, Author of Winged Brothers and Maritime Unmanned

“Institutions reflect, more deeply than we sometimes acknowledge, the vision of individuals who assert themselves at critical times in their history. This exception collection of essays does an excellent job of describing the contributions of the airmen who shaped the United States Air Force from its inception down to the present day.” —Dr. Eliot A. Cohen, Robert E. Osgood professor, Johns Hopkins SAIS

“Olsen and his band of scholars offer biographies at their best. Comprehensively researched, superbly written, highly educational and extremely inspirational. Airpower Pioneers is a very important book about United States Air Force thought leaders, the airpower profession’s place in national security, and why the United States is the world’s prime aerospace nation. Read this book and marvel at their achievements.” —Admiral (ret.) James G. Foggo, USN, Dean of the Center for Maritime Strategy

“Olsen’s new book affirms the status of the author as the premier historian of American airpower. Because his approach is biographic, the reader views events from the inside, and thus even more dramatically, because it has been the lot of airpower pioneers to collide with the strongest force on earth. Olsen and his team depict and explain all this with marvelous clarity.” —Dr. Edward N. Luttwak, Author of Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace

“John Olsen and his fellow authors have put together a wonderful set of essays on those thinkers, many of them doers, who have contributed so much to the growth of airpower and air forces. This is an important book for those who are interested in military history, whether military professionals, students or simply the casual reader.” —Dr. Williamson Murray, Professor emeritus, The Ohio State University

“Airpower Pioneers rigorous scholarship demonstrates that as technology advanced in the air domain so did accompanying theories and doctrine about its application. From air superiority to deterrence to parallel warfare, this work brings to life the ideas that transformed the Air Force as well as those who crafted them.” —Melvin G. Deaile, Author of Always at War, Director, School of Advanced Nuclear Deterrence Studies

“Men have been fighting on land and sea for thousands of years, but we are still at the dawn of the Age of Airpower. The journey from the Army Air Corps' 1st Aero Squadron to today’s high-powered, high-performing military aviation units has been stunning, but it did not happen accidentally. At every step of the way there were airpower prophets and visionaries who recognized that this new technology would change the way of war forever. They carefully guided its development, inspired the thinking that governed its employment, and breathed life into the organizations that brought it to bear against the enemy. Most importantly, they trained the combat leaders who turned the interesting experiment of the 1st Aero Squadron into the most combat-essential and lethal force in the battlespace today. This is the story of those airpower prophets. Every Airman should know their names and their contributions. My sincere thanks and deep respect to John Olsen and his team for making that possible.” —General (ret.) Mark A. Welsh III, 20th Chief of Staff, USAF
"Airpower Pioneers completes Olsen’s trilogy on the US Air Force, examining 12 architects of American airpower. Previously, Airpower Reborn (2015) explored John Boyd's and John Warden's contributions to doctrine, and Airpower Applied (2017) scrutinized the use of airpower by both the Americans and Israelis. Many figures examined in Airpower Pioneers are well known—e.g., Billy Mitchell, Hap Arnold, Haywood Hansell, Hoyt Vandenberg, and Curtis LeMay. Others are less familiar but no less important. David Deptula translated Warden’s doctrines into the air campaign that kicked off the Gulf War, and those doctrines have continued to evolve. Wilbur Creech transformed Tactical Air Command, making it combat ready at a moment’s notice, and helped introduce new weapons to Tactical Air Command’s inventory—e.g., the F-15, F-16, A-10, and E-3 AWACS. David Jones aided in advancing the “fighter mafia” within the Air Force and laid the foundation for the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which transformed the American military establishment (p. 242). Each chapter is superbly written and carefully researched. Anyone interested in airpower will find this volume a rewarding read. Highly recommended. General readers through faculty."—Choice


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