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tv   World War I Fighter Pilot Culture  CSPAN  December 31, 2019 4:11pm-5:06pm EST

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michael hankins looks at the fighter pilot culture which has its origins in world war i. he discussed the airmen behind the stories and described how legendary pilots like eddie rickenbacker influenced movies, comics and popular culture. held by the national world war i museum and memorial in kansas city, this is close to an hour. all right. ladies and gentlemen, it's my true pleasure to produce our last speaker for this afternoon. that's dr. michael hankens, assistant professor of strategy at the united states air force's e school of graduate professional military education where he directs courses on air power history and national strategy. he recently published an article, "the tball solution: the evolution of air combat technology in vietnam 1968 to 1972." in the at air power" history journal and currently writing a
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book that explores the relationship between pilot culture and the technological development of military aircraft. he earned his ph.d. and dissertation of "culture and technology in the u.s. air force 1964 to 1991." ladiies and gentlemen, please help me in welcoming dr. michael hankins. >> all right. i will try to not keep you from the reception and i'll be quick. i did want to start off by talking about something that happened about a year ago last june in 2017. there was an air force f-15 flying over syria. this is not what you expected to hear in a world war i lecture, but stay with me. an f-15 is flying over syria and shoots down an iranian drone, an unmanned aerial vehicle or uav. about two weeks, not quite two weeks later a second almost
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identical event happened, another f-15 shot down another iranian drone, and i don't know about you, but my twitter exploded. people started talking online, blogs are being written, people are arguing. and what they're arguing about is does shooting down that drone count as a kill? is that something? and people are really intensely arguing about it. if you shot down five drones, does that make you a fighter ace? [ laughter ] and many pilots are very emotional about this argument and they're coming back and saying, shooting down a drone, that's just easy. it seems arguable. or maybe it's that shooting down a drone, some of them say it's just not sporting enough. this is actual arguments being put forth. some say it's just different because there's not a man at the controls of the drone even though technically there is. so what's interesting to me about this and the reason i bring it up, all these arguments, the fact that they're using those particular arguments point to a culture, a culture in
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fighter pilots that has certain values. and the origin of that culture -- you heard the dates of some of my work being in the '60s and '70s. the reason i got into studying world war i is because the pilots of that era and today all look back to world war i as the origin point of their culture. in fact, when the "air force times," a fine organization -- i'm supposed to say as the guy who works for the air force. the "air force times" reported on these drone shootings and they started off their story not by talking about the f-15s or drones but with a paragraph about the red baron and his legacy and is these drone events, do those somehow fit into that legacy. so the idea of world war i and the fighter pilots that we see there are very much in the minds of fighter pilots today. and so let me define what i'm talking about a little bit. when i talk about the fighter pilot mythos and the culture. there are basically i would say five characteristics that this
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fighter pilot culture has. and here's what i'm getting at. number one, individualism. these people see themselves as individual fighters as opposed to part of a larger group and that includes being so individualistic that they are resistant to authority figures. they don't like their cos, they feel sometimes okay disobeying orders a little bit if they can get away with it. aggressiveness is part of this. they see themselves as longing for combat. they want to get into fights. it includes a sense of competitiveness with each other. we'll get into that. a use of heroic and mythological imagery to describe themselves. the very term "knights of the air" and this idea that we are like the noble knights of old, that's something that they used to talk about themselves quite often. this technology piece, now the airplane is a piece of technology, inherently, there's also this inherent technological connection when you're talking about aircraft and pilots. but particularly with fighter pilots, they will advocate for
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certain specific types of technology, the types that make you a better fighter pilot. they don't care about things like range and bomb load. they care about how maneuverable is my plane. can i make a technological advancement that helps me be more agile or maybe faster. particular types of technology that help this culture perpetuate itself. and finally this is a protective culture. it is internally competitive but also internally respectful of each other and they are suspicious of people that are not part of the fighter pilot community, like myself who's apparently coming in here and talking about it. [ laughter ] >> it's important to know, when i put this forward, a lot of folks, a lot of historians when they talk about "knights of the air" they say, yes, everybody thinks of themselves as knights of the air but it's all fake, it's all fiction. to an extent that's right, a lot of pilots and a lot of the dogfights that they get into, and dogfights is the term for when airplanes are battling each other in the skies, they don't always live up to this kind of
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image so this isn't always true. it's true often enough that pilots can point to some specific examples and say this, this is what i want to be like. but what's more interesting to me about this culture is not whether or not it's accurate to reality precisely, but it's more about this is the ideal that these fighter pilots have. this is what they want to be. this is the creation myth, this is the story that they tell about themselves to give themselves a sense of identity. whether or not they live up to this in reality is almost -- i'm not going to say irrelevant. but it's less relevant than the fact they want to be living up to this and they see this add an ideal to strive for. and when they don't live up to this, it creates some internal problems for them. and this culture has survived. i could give the example of the drones. think about this, what is really the difference culturally. the technology has changed. the capabilities of aircraft have changed, we're talking about jets and stuff nowadays.
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but what is the difference between an eddie rickenbacker of the first world war and, say, tom cruise in "top gun" other than the aircraft being bigger, faster and louder, i don't know if there's much in terms of attitude and culture. they're very similar types of folks. so i want to get into that. first some background for those of you who are not totally aware of how we got here in terms of air power and what air power is doing in the first world war. air power is doing a lot of things. and air power is not totally new in world war i. we have had for a long time balloons. this goes all the way back to the napoleonic era. we've had balloons that would go up. they're participating in the german wars of unification uses balloons. the american civil war uses balloons. and these are doing primarily reconnaissance roles. they are spotting enemy positions, reporting them back. they're also helping artillery to spot and target more effectively. and so as soon as you get aircraft, like airplanes with a motor and a heavier-than-air
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manned air power, this is the first thing we try to do with them. let's use them for recon and observation. and the americans, of course, invent aircraft, right? the wright brothers and the airplane. but the american military is a little bit slower to pick up on the possibilities of the airplane than the european powers are. the first use of an airplane as a weapons system is not in world war i, it's actually by the italians. in 1911 in the italian-turkish war, in present day libya, in 1911 an italian aircraft becomes the first airplane to drop a bomb on ground troops. shortly after that incident, those same troops become the first ground troops to shoot down an airplane. [ laughter ] it's not the same airplane. it's a few days later. but still a funny story. americans do try to get in on the game shortly after this. in 1913 the americans developed the first aerosquadron. here we are in 1913.
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and the earlier talks talked about the expedition to mexico when the united states goes down searching for poncho vee in mexico. this is a great opportunity. hey. we're going to do some military stuff. let's get some airplanes, get some air power. so the americans, of course, have their reputation for technological innovation and production capabilities. so they build and amass a giant armada totaling eight planes to go to mexico with. all eight of these planes are grounded almost instantly. the weather just eats them alive. some locals vandalized two of them. the others get, you know, scavenged for parts. the engines are underpowered. they can't even deliver the mail from the headquarters much less go on any sort of combat mission. so that's what the americans are doing with aircraft. but in europe, things are going a little bit differently. when we get into the early part of world war i, each of the
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major belligerent powers of world war i has about 50 airplanes give or take, at the very beginning of the war. but no one really knows what to do with them. the idea of recon is there from the balloons. but as a historian has said, no one had a clear idea about what they wanted out of an airplane. so it's going to be a time of experimentation. and this is true across the board. when it comes to training, because no one has an idea of what we're going to do with these, training for the pilots at the beginning of world war i is unfocused to say the least, if it even exists at all. your average pilot is going to have about 17 hours of flight training. some of the really good ones are going to have close to 50. 50 hours of training would be a lot for a world war i pilot and compare that in the second world war, pilots have about 300 hours of training. at least early on in the war. and so a lot of pilots are actually dying in training accidents.
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this is a fairly common thing to have happen because these things are experimental. this is cutting-edge technology of the day, right? it's wood and canvas and a little wire. that doesn't sound very technological. what makes this technologically advanced is the engines in them and how cutting edge the engines are, how light they are, how powerful they are, also the shape of the wood and canvas, engineering that makes them more aerodynamic, constantly making them updated and changed and made more efficient as things go on. what about parachutes, you saw? well, if people are dying in training -- surely they got parachutes, they'll be okay. parachutes are in the experimental phase, style. they do figure out how to make some of them work. very late in the war, very late in 1918 a few german pilots will have parachutes with them. before that, nobody goes in the air outside of the crews with parachutes. in fact, part of this culture was if you're a fighter pilot, anyway, why would you want to parachute?
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you want a way out of the fight? what are you, a whimp? there's this attitude, we don't want our pilots to have parachutes because they might not make them aggressiveennemy. idea of air power evolves quickly. first it's reconnaissance. very quickly people start figuring out what else they can do with them. in fact, one of the reasons the miracle, why the french are able to stop the german advance in 1914, is because there's an observation plane, very similar to this one, that was able to spot german movements very quickly. that's not the only reason, but it's an important contributor. people on the ground recognized how important this observation role was, even very early on. there's an incident where a french artillery officer is getting interviewed to a british journalist. they're talking and a german observation plane flies overhead and the french officer looks at the interviewer and says there's that wretched bird that is
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haunting us. people recognize this is a problem. so people are trying to do other things with planes as well. there's a few incidents early on in 1914 where a german plane flies over paris with a list of names of captured french soldiers. and drops a couple of bombs around paris, very small ones, like single shells with a note afterwards. it's a list of names and it says please notify the families of these men, they are p.o.w.s. they're being treated fairly. sorry about the bombs. shortly after that a different german plane also flew over paris, dropped a single bomb and then a note that said see the power of our aircraft, you must surrender immediately. early attempt at psychological operations. didn't go quite as well as they thought. but these observation planes are very effective. very quickly they start to realize we need to shoot down the observation planes.
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this is causing a problem for us. we quickly translate into air-to-air combat. this is an example of some rockets. those didn't work out too well. quickly realized that guns are better than this. but what this introduces is the idea of air-to-air combat. now we got planes specifically going up to try to shoot down an enemy observer plane. they're going to try to shoot right back. now you've got air-to-air combat happening and evolving very quickly. each nation is trying to make new technological developments to take out the other person's plane and then they will do something else. it's this cat-and-mouse game. planes start flying in larger formations for defense, especially the flying "v" formation is especially useful. right? so the germans introduce a fighter plane, the fokker einedecker. they use the word pursuit. i'm going to keep using the word, fighter, because i work
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for the air force. they make us do that. it's got a gun built in. see it's a monoplane. it's very maneuverable. this thing could shoot down french and british planes very effectively. and the western allies start talking about the fokker scourge that's just cleaning out the skies. they have to do something to try to push back against this. and it's during this time in 1915 as that goes can into '16 and '17, increasing air-to-air battles. the idea of the individual pilots, the aces that are shooting each other down, they start to become famous. they start to become known for this. one of the most famous in germany, of course, here and his student, who you may have heard of, van richthofen, the red baron. those are some of the more famous on the german side. we'll talk more about them in a second. but to try to defeat this scourge, the french developed a new plane, the newport.
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this is the small one, the baby. it's very effective at shooting down these fokkers. the german counter with an albatross. this second from the front is the red baron's. in this particular one. so to defeat the albatross, the albatross is shooting us down. western allies, british come back with the spad fighters. so now we got lots of levels of technology being advanced very quickly designed to shoot each other down. by the time you get to 1918, it's very clear, a few things. even though in 1918 air power is playing a particularly large role. by this point the germans are experimenting in their spring offenses with new ground attack techniques that are pretty effective. the offensive of the americans is probably i think the largest air attack up to that point in history. 1,500 planes. it's fairly effective. what is clear, also, is that air power has not changed the nature
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of war in any significant way. before the war had started, there's all these theorists talking about if we can get airplanes working, war will never be the same. it will be completely different. all this revealed is that just like you fought on the ground before, now you just have more space to fight in. you're fighting in the air and it's turning into attrition in the air like it was attrition on the ground. this hasn't fundamentally changed anything, but what it has done is created these individual famous aces. now an ace means you shoot down five planes or more, which is a convention that started -- it didn't start exactly that way. at first it was four, depending on who you ask it would have been a different number. seems to have started within the squadrons, themselves, later newspapers start picking it up. newspapers start publishing -- here's coverage on the death of richthofen in the british newspapers. but some newspapers published scorecards so you can keep track at home, how many people has the red baron killed today.
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these people become very famous. if you shoot down five or more planes you're an ace. you can get an ace status by not being a fighter pilot, although this was very debated even at the time. could a ground gunner that shot down five planes become an ace? in some cases they did, in some cases they didn't. the red baron is the top scoring of these aces with 80 air-to-air kills which is why they called them the ace of aces because just ace wasn't good enough. the american pilots start showing up as the american air service in 1918. of course they're flying europe planes because americans are late to this party. over 100 americans will achieve ace status during the war. the most successful of which is eddie rickenbacker of the 94th squadron. you always need a place to put your crazy aggressive people because you need them sometimes but you don't want too many around.
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the 94th was that place, top scoring unit, top scoring squadron. in the american air service. eddie rickenbacker leads the charts for them. so airplane is still new. it's still developing. by the end of the war we had not only seen air power develop kind of similar types of mission sets we still use today to a large degree. you've seen this culture start to develop as it evolves into weapons systems. what is about them that makes them so attractive to the public? in a large way, it's a response to what's happening on the ground. right? this is the victorian era, peel wanted these kind of old-school mythological heroes and it wasn't even 15 years earlier that for americans, at least, you had teddy roosevelt charging up san juan hill, the lone warp yorior. i'm going to charge up the hill and take the hill and this expression of masculinity.
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and heroism. now you go into world war i and world war i is not that. at least the popular perception of what's happening is you've got millions of men in the front lines getting ripped apart by machine fire and artillery barrages and their bodies destroyed and decayed by gas, dying in mud pits so they can gain a few inches of muddy ground is the isn't worth anything. that's not the heroism or the mythological hero i thought i was wanting compared to something like a san juan hill of teddy roosevelt that the public, particularly of this generation longed for. but these pilots seemed to fit into that old ideal. at least in some way. at least on the surface. so the public starts latching onto them. so do the pilots themselves. they start calling themselves the knights of the air. i want to read you this passage from john murrow.
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the historian of first world war. he sums up the pilots this way, quote, the war of the masses bequeath the new individual hero, the aviator, the fighter ace, honored as a demigod. object of a secular holy cult whose fame and heroism were quantifiable in terms of his number of conquests or kills. the ancient warrior reappeared now mounted in a lethal machine that elevated him above all earthly mortals ready for repeated trial the by combat on behalf of the honor and survival of his nation." that sounds a little bit off the top. it sounds a little bit ridiculous. do these people actually see themselves like that? to a large degree, yes. i mean, i looked for the origin of this and trying to find where's the first use of the term, knights of the air or the association of knighthood with being a pilot. it's hard to find. it depends on who you ask. but it's there very early on. in fact, in october of 1914, no
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less a luminary than sci-fi great h.g. wells writes a piece for the "literary digest." he says fin who go s anyone who destroys an airplane or zeppelin in the air, specifically somebody who shoots something down in the air, should have a knighthood automatically. there's this association of air-to-air combat with knighthood for whatever reason for h.g. wells and this was kind of a popular sentiment at the time. one of the best expressions of this, i think, is from an american, lieutenant bennett multier. he volunteered to fly in the lafayette drill. i'll come back to him in a second. he writes his memoir of the war, he titles it, of course, "knights of the air." he has this passage where he says, why is it that i was motivated to be a pilot? he has a half sentence, of course it was patriotism and i
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love my country, but a close second was this, my boyhood love. for adventure and avid appetite for tales of chivalry. the knights of the -- he has this whole section, instead of going forth on a horse, i'm going to ride in my aircraft. i'm going to ride a fur-lined fighter jacket instead of suit of armor. i'll have my padded leather helmet instead of a steel one. gloves of wool, a machine gun instead of a sword. this guy, when you ask him what it means to be a fighter pilot, he is literally clothing himself in boyhood nostalgia. and that's what he thinks being a fighter pilot means, is to somehow reinvigorate these tales of knighthood from his youth. it's not just arthur of the round table kind of stuff. it's that but a close second is greek and roman mythological heroes.
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no less than billy mitchell who will go on to become what we like to call in the air force, the father of the u.s. air force. he's talking about fighter pilots, he says this, they had no greater odds against them than these aviators. have to have the heart of a lion, wisdom of a serpent and speed and thought of mercury. not only are these guys heroes, they are kind of like the gods themselves. is what billy mitchell is saying. again, they see themselves this way. they're not necessarily living up to it. but the ways in which they express this individuality was a big part of it. you want to be a lone warrior. the early planes, some of the early fighter planes, they have two cockpits in them. you've got a pilot and a guy behind you with some sort of gun. a lot of pilots did not like that one bit. i don't want another guy shooting the gun for me. and they're all guys.
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so what can i do about this? now every nation was trying to -- they had recognized the problem. if you mount a machine in front of the cockpit you'll shoot your own propeller off. about one out of every ten bullets would hit the propeller. before the war started every nation has engineers trying to solve that problem. even before the war started every nation has engineers trying to solve that problem. they all come up with some version of an interrupter gear to stop that from happening. before that was fully operational, there's a french pilot, roland garros, who says i've got another solution before we get to the interrupter gear working, i'll just put these big metal plates on my propeller. it will deflect the bullets away. it will allow me to put a machine gun -- he's working with his mechanic and other engineers that help him with this. this allows him to be the sole pilot. he doesn't have to have a guy in
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the back anymore. this is great. at least for the fighter pilots. they love them. the german fighter pilot loved this design, the idea of a single seat fighter becomes a thing for them. he says of the single seat fighter, quote, the strongman is mightiest alone. i have obtained my ideal with this single seater. now i can be pilot, observer and fighter all in one. my single seater possesses the advantage of giving me complete independence. i can fly how i will. you see this trait all over the place. some pilots prided themselves in this. the americans tended to assume, as americans do, that they were more individualistic than the other countries. colonel livingston says, it was fortunate the germans were so well trained as formation flyers that they were ever to follow the leader. they weren't individuals like us americans.
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we'll go off by ourselves. i mean, the germans were doing that, too. come on. one of the best examples of this comes from a fighter pilot named henry clay. he's from here in missouri. ends up spending a lot of time in ft. worth, texas. very close to my hometown. he flies first with the british and then later when the americans join the war to the americans. he's writing home to his sister and he says this, quote, the work of the flyer as an individual is more than that of any other i think. the other branches, one is a small part of a big machine and the individual does not count for much. in the air service the individual is something. the responsibility placed on one flyer on contact patrol is so great that the fate of a whole portion of a front depends on that one pilot coming through. maybe. sorry. he goes on. in scout work the individuality of the pilot shows up not only in his fighting, but it's his job.
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he attacks every enemy machine that shows itself. in these fights the pilot that is the best shot and the best flyer usually comes out victorious. in these fights it's man against man instead of a division against a division. that's why i like the air service. the individual counts for something, end quote. so aside from this individualism and tied to it is the sense of aggression. probably the most emphasized trait when you read these. they see themselves as kind of re-creating this knights of the round table concept. one of the best versions -- you see this a lot with fighters of the escadrille. i mentioned them. here's the escadrille. if you don't know who they are, about 250-ish pilots, americans that volunteer long before america enters the war to fly
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for france. they create the lafayette escadrille. they get a lot of credit. they're the most famous unit. keep in mind about that many more americans volunteered and were spread out among other squadrons. they didn't all have a cool marketable name like that. actually more americans are going to fly with the british than in the lafayette escadrille. they're the famous one you hear the most about. one of their pilots, alan winslow talks about he used to look for german air fight and fly into it hoping he would be seen so an enemy pilot would come up and he could get in a dog fight. that's the aggressiveness we're talking about. these lafayette escadrille pilots, i notice almost every presentation has involved puppies in some way or another. i don't have any puppies for you because these are fighter pilots, they're most aggressive than that. their mascot was two lion cubs. one was named whiskey and one
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was named soda because, of course, they were -- but you see this aggressiveness show up in other ways. quintin roosevelt was a good example of this aggressiveness. son of teddy roosevelt, of course. he wrote about how he was -- this is a quote -- i'm quite anxious to see combat. so he joins, goes over to be a pilot. he does a very typical fighter pilot thing, which is he knows he has bad eyesight, he can't see anything. so he's not going to pass the eye exam, they're not going to let him fly. what does the fighter pilot do? he sneaks into the doctor's office, memorized the eye chart, goes in, recites it perfectly, aces the test. he can't see anything. but he gets in a dogfight fairly early. he's so excited by it, he loves the feeling of being in combat in his aircraft. he writes back to his mother and he says, quote, you get so excited that you forget everything except getting the other fellow, trying to dodge tracers when they're streaking
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past you. exciting letter that he writes. it's only a few months after he writes that letter in 1918 that he is shot down and killed at age 20. aggressiveness took the form also of competition, of course. the kill count was the measure of success for a fighter pilot. how do you know you're better than that guy? you shot down more planes. of course that leads to inflation. people start claiming a lot of things. but this desire to get a higher kill count is important. here's another quote from henry clay who i'm going to keep coming back to. he says, quote, here's hoping that before they get me i can have 50 to my credit. that's my first wish. my second is that they don't get me at all. if i die, i'm cool with it as long as i have a high score. now, spoiler alert for him, here doesn't get 50. he does get eight. so he's almost a double ace. he does survive the war just long enough to die of influenza in 1919.
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but this emphasis on the kill count leads to many pilots exaggerating their claims. this becomes a major problem. all the nations have to deal with it in various ways by instituting various policies. the u.s. ends up saying we're not giving you an official kill unless somebody outside of your squadron with verify it because, come on. americans would give kill credits to assists in a way. there's two separate incidents where there's eight observation planes and eight fighter planes that all say they contributed to one german aircraft being shot down. that one german kill got 16 kill credits on the american side. in fact, if you add all this up, look at all the western allies, france, britain, the united states. when i say britain, i should emphasize, they are usie ining s from their colonial possessions as well.
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the british flyers have pilots from australia, new zealand, canada, south africa, i mean, about 40 modern day nations are represented in the british flying corp and air force after they become independent. if you add up all the kills, you get 11,760 claimed kills. go look at the german records of how many planes they lost on the western fronts, about 3,000. you could easily play that game and reverse the germans claimed as many. that's the kind of thing you're dealing with. technology obviously plays a key role in all of this as well. it's the particular kinds of technologies like i said before. these pilots want to make technological advancements that make their planes more agile, more durable. things that help them do this fighter pilot thing better. and that's where they want to put their advances. these pilots had very close relationships with their technology.
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the whole knights and horse metaphor is an apt one. they had a personal intimate connection with their aircraft. i mentioned the single seat thing is one good example of the technology and culture coming together. one example of that is raul luftberry. he wases part of the lafayette escradrille. he joined the americans as part of the 94th squadron. he flew along with eddie. any time somebody suggested he fly in a two seat plane he allegedly quote wouldn't hear of it. he insisted he always flies solo and nobody was allowed to fly with him. they give him the nickname lone start luft. pilots love nicknames. the aircrafts took on symbolic roles. any time there was a new development, new aircraft came out, these pilots would have hot
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opinions. so we see this cycle start to repeat itself. one example, the american 147th, kenneth clendenden loved the newport 28. here's the newport. loved this. said this is the most maneuverable plane i had yet, this helps me dogfight, it can do the close turns i want. when the unit started receiving spy fighters, the pilots in that unit hated them because the engines were less reliable and apparently according to some of them it wasn't as maneuverable. they nicknamed it the pooping spad. and they said it had a problematic engine. in the 90th aerosquadron they had different planes. these are actually an observation plane. but apparently the flight characteristics were so sublime that their eyes would literally light up according to one memoir. that unit before that had been using the softwift 1 1/2 strutter here. apparently these were considered terrible because they weren't maneuverable or reliable.
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in fact, when the 90th was bombed, the pilots all compla complained that the worst thing that happened about the bombing was they didn't destroy the soft whips. we wanted to get rid of those. there's different opinions on this. colonel livingston irving who flew for france and the united states later in his life in a memoir said he preferred flying with france because he thought their aircraft was better at dogfighting. he actually disagreed with earlier pilots. he liked the spads better because it was actually faster. he said it was the fastest thing on the front, a blistering 147 miles an hour. it was considered really, really fast for the time. but he likes the agility but knew he needed durability. he wanted his planes to take some hits in a fight. his preference was this, the royal aircraft factory se5. this is not an original. what's interesting to me, you see this keep going on, the soft whip camel comes out.
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a lot of pilots loved that. it had a tendency to fall into an inverted spin, which is super dangerous. other pilots liked the spad, said it was durable and said the newport yes, the newport is more maneuverable but if you turn too tight you might tear your own wings off and that's a problem. we don't want that. what's interesting -- i'm not trying to get into an argument about which plane is best, because that's an -- we could have that at the bar. but what's interesting to me is what their reasoning is for what they think a good plane is, what they're looking for. it's always characteristics that give them an edge in combat, in that ace fighter man-on-man combat. that's what they're looking for. this aggressiveness, this lust for violence, it's tempered by that sense of chivalry. historians have said this is largely untrue. but it's true just often enough
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that there are some specific examples that pilots can point to and say look how noble we're being in these combats. chivalry does exist sometimes. for example, i'll show you two examples. alan winslow talked about his first dogfight. flying around, germans are coming at him. his machine guns get jammed. it happens all the time. when you're in an airplane without a parachute, it's a whole different ball game. the only way to fix the problem is to crawl out of your cockpit while you're flying, lean over and try to fix your guns. winslow's doing that while a german is coming right at him. he knows he's vulnerable, he's a goner. allegedly, according to him, the german comes up, sees what's going on, sees the guns are jammed. gets up real close, waves and then flies off. and winslow says, writes in his diary that day, by gallantry, my
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life has been saved. and who am i to say it didn't happen? it probably did happen. other things happened. the 13th aerosquadron there's an incident where an american shoots down a german fighter plane. guy goes to the ground. the american lands, gets up, gd the american gets up and cease the pilot as mildly injured, they shake hand, oh, thank you, sir and then they go about their business and the official unit history for that event calls it a splendid holiday. so these kind of things do happen. it's not like they never happened. they're just kind of the exception that proves the rule because more often than not air combat was not like that. it was a little bit more brutal. this nobility thing is a construction and it's an ideal and an ideal that pilots at the time knew that they weren't necessarily living up to. the 91st aerosquadron for the united states had a theme song and it's super long, one verse
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of it talks about the knights of ol old. they get drunk at night. they go out to the bar and they get plastered and wake up at noon. who cares what their c.o.s are saying? it's not like that, we have to get up at 5:30 and do the maneuvers and there are ten more verses of this and it gets into gender issues and chasing after women and apparently it's not anymore and they talk about all this. they want to be this and they know that they can't quite live up to it. and that's their theme song, or for many pilots it gets muchmore brutal than that. the technology aspect that i emphasize tends to have a dehumanizing effect. there are pilots that have trouble recognizing that there's a man in the cockpit, but there
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is, in fact, a man in the enemy cockpit. driscoll hunter is the ace of the 94th and he'll go on to be a general in the world war ii era. he says you're not fighting a person. it's a machine. when he's in that cockpit he can't recognize that he's talking about another human being. it's just a machine. this french pilot pierre le pardin of 21, and he is talking about dogfights and how crazy it is and there are bullets flying everywhere and there are these planes squirrelling because these guys talk about one-on-one aerial duels as the thing they want to do, but that's not how most of these fights were and they'll be eight on eight and a lot of them will be much higher and there are specific battles where there are 100 planes in the air at one time. it's more crazy and disorienting and terrifying than anything
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else. it's impossible to speak of chivalry in that kind of a scenario. arthur writes, davis talks about the same thing and the similar dogfight where you can think of is pumping led and looking out and avoiding collisions and missing each other by a couple of feet and that's not nobility dueling and that's insanity and that's chaos and it's terrifying chaos happening at over 100 miles an hour with an open cockpit and no parachute. and so this causes some issues for several people psychologically. people discuss the trauma that they have in going down in flames. a lot of these flames are carrying explosive rounds and incendiary rounds to light their enemies on fire at times, and others talk about this. captain arthur lee, he talked
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about recurring dreams and nightmares of guns shooting at him as he flies in the skies and several times when he wakes up in the middle of the night shaking, sweating and screaming, and his was not an isolated experience. pilots talk about just that kind of thing. lieutenant oliver from the 66th says, quote, this flying job is rotten for one's nerves. although one is supposed to last months, quite a lot of people's nerves kofrpg out. there are lots of c.o.s in various squadrons that compare about their men having nervous breakdowns. fear of flying is a thing. a lot of pilots get superstitious and they carry certain things in the air being good luck charms and the most common one is women's lingerie. i'll just tie it on to the side. many pilots are psychologically scarred by the war and they feel they're supposed to live up to the knightly image and the best
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example of this is a pilot i've named several times is henry clay. this is something i found in the archives and i'm in -- ut dallas has a great world war i aviation archive and all of these letters are there and i'm reading letters from his sister where he's talking about the romance and the individualism and the aggressiveness and i'm going to get 50 guys and all this, as he's writing those letters to his sister, he discovers that his younger brother wants to be a pilot and wants to join him. so at the same time and the same date range that he's writing his letter to his sister he writes separately to his little brother and he says this, it's not all sunshine and flowers. more flowers than anything else, though. we joke about pushing up daisy, but it's a reality. i saw in the paper that one must forget about danger and be fearless to be a good pilot, but that person didn't know what they were talking about. this whole thing can be summed
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up in few word, little brother, don't be a damn fool. he writes to his brother and says do not do this. this is not what you think it is. it's not the glory that you think it is. he even goes on further and says this game of war is the greatest game of chance you ever played and not a game of nobility and nightly duels and exciting heroic combat like the stories that you read as a kid. this is a game of chance and it's a deadly one and i'm a fatalist and so is everyone else. sherman was right, war is hell and there is not a hell hot enough for those who contributed to the beginning of this war. this is not i -- again, this is a private letter to his brother. he did not say stuff like this in any of his other letter, but not your typical fighter pilot bragadocio, but that's not something that they felt they
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could express publicly so this image of the fighter pilot becomes something that the public latches on to. the pilots see themselves as this, and trying to live up to it. the public loves it. magazines and pop fiction start to celebrate this. after the war is over in the 1920s, you get magazines like these and these aren't about bombers and these are about the glory fighter pilot days. as soon as motion pictures become a thing, some of the earliest big hit ocean pictures are about air to air combat, hell's angels, wings, "dawn patrol," and they were the most expensive movies made at the time they came out and this is all about dogfighting. a new art form shows up in the 1930s, the comic book and comic book superheroes will also play into this. one of the earliest best-selling comic books in 1941 is "blackhawk" celebrating the
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fighter pilot mythology. "black hawk" is to this day one of the staples of the dc universe. i know you're all thinking of it and it was the most obvious example of comics talking about world war i pilots, but snoopy, the world war i flying ace. in fact, this is such a powerful image for later pilots that snoopy becomes a logo used all throughout the vietnam era. a bunch of vietnam fighter pilots with snoopy as the logo. pilots in the vietnam era talk about dreams of being snoopy and wanting to reenact this. and it goes on in the 1980s, "top gun," "iron eagle," the movies celebrating this culture and where do you think luke skywalker and starbuck comes from? those are translations of the same fighter pilot mythology,
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and probably the best example and i'll leave you with this culture is in our current-day connection to world war i and how strong it is and it comes from a film last year you may have heard of "wonder woman," good film. this is not really a spoiler. i'll say it in a non-spoilery way. towards the end of the film there is a photograph of the christopher pine character steve trevor. here it is. this is a -- i grabbed this from the dvd. this is in the movie and it's christopher pine standing in front of his fighter plane. notice, this is the same, exact photo i showed you 30 minutes ago there it is. this is shorthand. this is visual shorthand, the directors of this film, how do you know chris pine is a hero? because i've literally photoshopped him into the shoes of eddie rickenbacher, the
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symbol of his squadron which is still an active squadron, the 81st fighter skaud ron based in langley and the same, exact logo exists today on our current most exact fighter jet, the f-22. same logo, i don't know if you can see it there. the hat in the ring. it's still with us. this culture will never go away because "top gun" is filming a sequel. [ laughter ] so that's why this legacy is important. thank you very much. i'll take any questions. [ applause ] >> all right, ladies and gentlemen. i want you to work your way down to the microphone. dr. hankins, thank you. we do show wonder women here in the auditorium and we do a quick
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conversation about what's true and what's not, and i hadn't found that one yet so thank you so much for that and that's one more thing that i want to add to one of my future elect urs. it's because i threatened the world war i aviation historian, i know. [ laughter ] >> were these pilots involved in air to ground operations with the germans? >> absolutely. >> can you tell us about that? >> in 1918 it gets more so and they're experimenting with ground attack. in 1918 it comes to fruition in a lot of ways and the allied powers are doing this and the germans are using in 1918, you've probably heard about the storm trooper tactics that they're using on the ground. they also have storm flyer units and these are heavily armored airplanes. they're taking existing planes and adding armor to them.
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they fly very low. i mean, 100 feet maybe not even that, and dropping explosives where they can, trying to break up the lines. the loss rates for those piles is shockingly high and the powers will do the same type of tactic, as well in 1918 and they have the same kind of losses, but one thing that happens in the salient is billy mitchell goes in and pershing says billy mitchell, we'll do a big attack, can you do an air attack in support? he says absolutely. i'll need 1500 planes. he gets them and it's a mix of european pilots and they do a lot of different stuff and part of what they're doing is we need to eliminate those german aircraft so any time german aircraft come up to engage they'll do air to air and they'll bomb the air drones to try to take out as many planes
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on the ground as they can and they're successful and they're doing what they at the time talk about strategic bombing and we call it more interdiction. they're trying to hit rail line, supply depots and it's one of the reasons why the san miguel offensive works as well as it does and at least it's part of that -- i can talk about it all day. >> he's currently watched me with all of the other speakers so we'll go to the lasty request of the day. >> thank you, sir. >> do chopper pilots have the same culture? >> this is very interesting and it's something i try to get at in my longer works and how do the different flyers have different cultures? i personally have not looked at rotary wing guys very closely so i can't speak to them, but different guys have different
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cultures, and bomber guys have different cultures than the missileers do and there are psychological studies during world war ii where the air force hired psychologists to look at air force pilots versus fighter pilots and all of this is true and some of it was self-selecting and part of it was part of combat. fighter pilots were more independent and were more aggressive and didn't like authority and they were more team work oriented and there were cultural differences there. i don't know about the chopper pilots specifically, but i imagine just from what little i've seen it certainly is not quite the same as this, but there is probably some overlap. >> ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking dr. michael hankins. [ applause ] >> all week we're featuring american history programs as a preview of what's available
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every weekend on c-span3. lectures in history. american artifact, reel america. the civil war, oral histories, the presidency, and special event coverage about our nation's history. enjoy american history tv now and every weekend on c-span3. this week american history tv is on c-span3 every day with prime time features each night at prime time eastern. tonight, 1969 with woodstock, free speech and the gay rights movement. new year's day, wednesday, the 30th anniversary of the fall of the berlin wall. thursday, the forgotten battles of the civil war and friday, the 75th anniversary of the battle of the bulge where adolph hitler launched a surprise counter offensive against allied forces, watch american history tv all this week and every weekend on c-span3.
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>> american history tv products are available on the new c-span online store. go to c-span to see what's new from american history tv and check out all of the c-span products. american history tv continues now with u.s. army air corps veterans regarding their experiences as fighter pilots in europe during world war ii. this discussion was part of the 2019 american veterans center conference here in washington. it's a little more than an hour. [ applause ] it's been a wild couple of days and a lot of history packed into a short period of time. so i want to begin today,


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