As a former naval officer who served during Vietnam, Sears (Such Men As These: The Story of the Navy Pilots Who Flew the Deadly Skies Over Korea, 2010, etc.) brings an insider's knowledge of combat to this comprehensive history of the air war in the Pacific during World War II.
The author begins with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, so unexpected that tragically the only group of American fighters to take to the air was shot down by friendly fire. Sears juxtaposes that chaotic scene with festivities at a new Grumman Aircraft Engineering facility scheduled to open the next day. America had begun to prepare for war with an impressive buildup during the previous year. By the end of the war, Grumman had put about 30,000 planes in the air, including 12,000 advanced F6F Hellcats, which gave U.S. forces a significant advantage in the Pacific—even though at the start of the war, the Japanese Zero was a faster fighter plane with a better climb rate and turning radius. Sears also tells the less well-known, fascinating story of the fearless test pilots who risked their lives. They were employed by Grumman beginning in the 1930s—before the 1941 boom—in the aircraft industry, and many were killed testing the capabilities of dive bombers as well as the new generation of fighter planes. The author shows how American fighter pilots compensated for the early superiority of the Zero by developing new tactical formations that allowed them to outfly the enemy, and he goes behind the scenes to describe the high morale of American airmen.
A lively depiction of America's development of superior air power.