In the century that followed that first flight of Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the airplane has become an integral part of transportation technology. Wings: A History of Aviation from Kites to the Space Age looks at that century of history from the perspective of technological innovation. Although Tom D. Crouch recognizes the importance of the “foundation stones” of flight—kites, balloons, rotary-wheel toys—and acknowledges that aviation technology has been an international activity, he realizes that he cannot be encyclopedic. He limits his focus to twentieth century heavier-than-air flight in the atmosphere. Neither balloons nor space capsules are given much attention. For the period after World War II, he restricts his scope ever further, concentrating on developments in the United States, although he does not completely ignore foreign technological innovations, such as the Concorde.
Crouch traces the evolution of the airplane in both its military (World War I and II; the Korean, Vietnam, and Cold Wars) and civilian contexts. At the beginning of World War I, leading generals were uncertain whether the airplane would ever prove to be a significant addition to the military arsenal. Eight decades later, in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and the Persian Gulf, airpower proved to be America’s dominant weapon. During this same period, civilian air travel evolved from an adventure of the few to a routine shared by the many, as airports replaced railroad stations as the showplaces and center places of American transportation. Crouch shows how technology, economics, and politics interacted to bring about these changes.
Complimenting Couch’s text is a very useful glossary, an extensive bibliography, and a large number of photographs of aviators and aircraft.