In This Review

Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F-16, and the Weaponization of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia
Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F-16, and the Weaponization of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia
By Michael W. Hankins
Cornell University Press, 2021, 280 pp

Hankins, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, describes how the design and production of two fighter aircraft—the F-15 and the F-16—were initially shaped by a group of purists, including engineers and pilots, who wanted simple, agile aircraft that would prevail in dogfights and that would not be saddled with superfluous roles, such as attacking ground positions. In this lively, absorbing account, Hankins demonstrates the influence of a specific culture that celebrated the fighter pilot as a “knight of the air” who thrilled to aerial combat. This close-knit group, of which Colonel John Boyd became the most prominent member, was uncompromising in its advocacy but was disappointed when the designs for the new aircraft introduced additional technologies and functions. Hankins acknowledges some important contributions from this group, but he sees its purism as a nostalgic yearning for a past form of warfare that glorified the daring individual without appreciating the importance of supporting technologies. Its claims were undermined by the 1990–91 Persian Gulf War, which featured few dogfights but many attack missions on Iraqi ground positions. Technology, not individual bravado, provided the winning edge.