The New York Times best-selling author of Viper Pilot and retired USAF F-16 legend Dan Hampton offers the first comprehensive popular history of combat aviation - a unique, entertaining, and action-packed look at the aces of the air and their machines, from the Red Baron and his triplane in World War I to today's technologically expert flying warriors in supersonic jets.
One of the most decorated fighter pilots in history, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Dan Hampton goes back 100 years to tell the extraordinary story of the most famous fighter planes and the brave and daring heroes who made them legend.
Drawing on his expertise, Hampton shines a spotlight on the pioneers who have ruled the air from World War I through the Cold War to today. He provides unique insight into gutsy pioneers such as Manfred von Richthofen and his red triplane, and the flyboys in the iconic P51 Mustang who faced the Nazi Lufwaffe. Here, too, is a thoughtful look at modern air warriors, including his own exploits in the high-tech f-16 Falcon.
Interwoven throughout this sweeping narrative history is Hampton's personal account of traveling the world to find these storied aircraft. Strapping himself into the cockpit of such planes, he shares the thrill and experience of flying each. Exhilarating, told in his acclaimed high-octane style, Lords of the Sky is a fresh look at the development of aviation for history and military buffs alike.
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Great history, but ending goes off-topic
I grabbed Lords of the Sky after having read Hampton's other excellent book Viper Pilot. Most of my knowledge of air combat is from WWII and later. Hampton's history of the very beginnings of military aviation and fighter combat was very interesting. It also provides a basis to show the sharp contrasts in just how quickly aviation matured. And how some things (the core of air combat) remained the same. I appreciated the author's telling of stories from more than just an American point of view.
If I had any qualms it would be that the post-Korea part of the story mostly involves Americans, SAMs, and Weasels. Given that Hampton was a USAF Weasel pilot this is not surprising. There's a good account of Weaseling in Viper Pilot and I found it very interesting. However, I think the focus here takes the story off-topic.
I was disappointed that harsh lessons of air combat in Vietnam and America's losing touch with ACM prior to it weren't really touched on. Neither was the creation of Red Flag and Top Gun. John Boyd and the theory of energy-manueverability weren't mentioned. The Air Force's air superiority fighter, the F-15, is mentioned only in passing, and its replacement the F-22 is also mentioned just once (as a multi-billion dollar, single-mission waste).
Those qualms aside it was a great all around book, with me learning something in every chapter. His stories do a good job of immersing you into combat in various eras. The narration was fantastic. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in air combat.
This book is a shack (hits a bullseye)
After reading Edward H. Sims - The Greatest Aces, I thought I had gotten the fighter pilot history lesson. Little did I know there were yet vast unpublished information about the historical ascent of fighter pilots that had contributed to their rise. Dan Hampton has scored a hit here and retrieved history lessons I had never heard before. He does a great job with detail (with audio you must not slumber least you will miss something important). Well arranged with a historical rise beginning with the Wright brothers to modern day aircraft, he manages to describe why a fighter pilot can be skillfully honed but not created. This skill is in so many ways (he calls it hands) must be part of the natural order of creation.
Puts together history in the right order to explain the rise of the fighter pilot, his tactics and their strategies.
Pride. Someone has finally explained the uniqueness of the fighter pilot
If you are disappointed that you are not a fighter pilot and upset that you never got the chance, than this book is not for you. If you can find objectivity in your heart without the jealous pains of "Why not me!", then you will find out why the fighter fraternity is for just a few precious individuals. I have seen so many pilots think they have the "Right Stuff", only to be losers.
- James E. Johnston