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Air Mobility

A Brief History of the American Experience

Owen, Robert C.

Publication Year: 2013

Global air mobility is an American invention. During the twentieth century, other nations developed capabilities to transport supplies and personnel by air to support deployed military forces. But only the United States mustered the resources and will to create a global transport force and aerial refueling aircraft capable of moving air and ground combat forces of all types to anywhere in the world and supporting them in continuous combat operations. Whether contemplating a bomber campaign or halting another surprise attack, American war planners have depended on transport and tanker aircraft to launch, reinforce, and sustain operations.

Air mobility has also changed the way the United States relates to the world. American leaders use air mobility to signal friends and enemies of their intent and ability to intervene, attack, or defend on short notice and powerfully. Stateside air wings and armored brigades on Sunday can be patrolling the air of any continent on Wednesday and taking up defensive positions on a friend's borders by Friday. This capability affects the diplomacy and the calculations of America and its friends and enemies alike. Moreover, such global mobility has made America the world's philanthropist. From their earliest days, American airlift forces have performed thousands of humanitarian missions, dropping hay to snow-bound cattle, taking stranded pilgrims to Mecca, and delivering food and medicine to tsunami stricken towns.

Air Mobility examines how air power elevated the American military's penchant for speed and ability to maneuver to an art unequalled by any other nation.

Is charitable giving more about satisfying the needs of the donor or those of the recipient? The answer, according to Friedman, is both, and Reinventing Philanthropy provides the essential tools for maximizing the impact of one's donations.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Other Books in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-x

...a product of passion. Except for two educational assignments, I spent my entire air force career flying air transports or engaged in staff duties directly related to airlift and air mobility planning, doctrine development, and project management. In the course of all of that, I developed a passionate interest in the workings of the national air mobility system and...

Terms and Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xv-xx

...is an American invention. During the course of the twentieth century, other nations developed capabilities to transport supplies and personnel by air in support of military forces already on the battlefield. A few countries, mainly the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Great Britain, fielded airlift forces capable of moving infantry divisions over distances of a few hundred miles and delivering them by parachute or directly from...

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1. Discovering Air Mobility

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pp. 1-4

...great leap of imagination to visualize military airlift. Certainly thousands of beleaguered soldiers and desperate commanders of the past wished for the ability to fly into battle or away from bad situations. Indeed, Frenchmen had barely invented practical balloon flight in 1783 when Benjamin Franklin penned the following to a friend...

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2. Military Air Transport in the 1920s

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pp. 5-10

...U.S. Army Air Service, which became the U.S. Army Air Corps after 1926. Almost daily, military airmen pressed the limits of aircraft performance, broke records, and discovered or refined their understanding of the roles aircraft could play in modern war. As warriors, they focused on building the Air Service’s competency in bombardment, pursuit, and attack...

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3. Civil Aviation between the Wars

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pp. 11-17

...obvious connection between the commercial airline industry and national defense. Transmitting the thoughts of President Warren Harding, Fiorello H. La Guardia told fellow congressmen that “the outstanding weakness in the industrial situation . . . is the inadequacy of facilities to supply Air Service needs. . . . To strengthen [the commercial] industry is to strengthen our national...

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4. Military Air Transport in the 1930s

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pp. 18-25

...the start of the decade, they knew a lot more about the uses and operational nature of air transport than their tiny fleet of single- and three-engine cargo aircraft could handle. But transport aircraft technologies advanced profoundly in the coming years, spurred mainly by the rapid growth of the civil airline industry. From operating a few handfuls of Ford Tin Gooses and...

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5. Mobilizing Air Transport for Global War

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pp. 26-32

...capabilities grew more proportionately than any other arm of military airpower during World War II. In 1940 the Army Air Corps and the Navy possessed decades of experience in combat aviation— pursuit, attack, and bombardment—and they had operational units, training exercises, and doctrine libraries to show for it. Nothing similar existed...

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6. Air Transport in World War II

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pp. 33-42

...Transport Command (ATC) historian, “the Command reflected the global character of the war.”1 He could have been writing just as well for the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS). Among the major operational commands of the Army and the Navy, ATC and NATS were the only ones with planning and operational purviews that extended around the...

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7. Troop Carrier Aviation in World War II

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pp. 43-57

...The Wehrmacht troops deployed in and around the Diersfordter Wald expected the attack to come straight at them. The wald, a four-square-mile patch of forest stretching in a westward-facing arch around the village of Diersfordt, sat on a low ridge that sloped gently down to the Rhine River, two to three miles farther to the west. For days, German intelligence reports had confirmed...

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8. Airlift Consolidation in the 1940s

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pp. 58-69

...immediately thereafter, military planners began to consider the proper distribution of control over air transport forces. Given the expense and insatiable demand for transport aircraft from so many organizations, the logic of gathering long-range aircraft into a single command charged with providing “common-user” service made sense to many. The pressure for consolidation...

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9. The Berlin Airlift

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pp. 70-86

...of course. When the Russians blocked the railroads and highways connecting the city to the outside world on June 24, 1948, there was no diplomatic or military option available to the United States, Britain, and France—the Western powers sharing governance of the city with the Soviets— that seemed capable of saving it from starvation and eventual takeover...

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10. The Korean War

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pp. 87-104

...Korean War by saying that, while the conflict was little more than a “phrase in history books” for many Americans, its “impact . . . on the United States government and society was profound.” Blair made his point by listing the intensification of the Cold War, acceleration of the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race, and encouragement of McCarthyism among the war’s impacts on American national security and political affairs...

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11. Troop Carrier Aviation in the 1950s

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pp. 105-116

...things were never used after World War II. But their existence pushed the Army and the Air Force’s Tactical Air Command (TAC) into operational concepts that demanded a lot of theater airlift. Adoption of these concepts, particularly by the Army, pressed reluctant air force leaders to expand and modernize troop carrier forces, despite their general reluctance to divert funding away...

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12. Army Aviation in the 1950s

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pp. 117-131

...military involvement in the Vietnam War, the Department of Defense gave the U.S. Army broad latitude to develop its aviation arm. Held back only by the limitations of contemporary technology, budgets, and air force doctrinal prerogatives, army aviation experts largely were free to take their experiments and developments wherever they wanted. In a few short years they...

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13. Air Transport in the 1950s

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pp. 132-144

...continual doctrinal and institutional duress. Each military service, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the scheduled and unscheduled airline industries, different groups in Congress, and other interests all had differing views of the proper roles, the operational priorities, and even the very need for the command. According to its charter, MATS was the common-user air transport service of the military...

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14. The National Military Airlift Hearings

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pp. 145-155

...Following years of wrangling between the Army, the Air Force, the airline industry, and Congress over the size, equipage, and operations of MATS, he scheduled hearings in the spring of 1960 to settle the issue. He promised to conduct comprehensive hearings solely in the interest of the national defense. But, from the start, the organization and witness list of the hearings indicated his predetermination to preserve...

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15. Inventing the Civil Reserve Airlift Fleet

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pp. 156-170

...of the U.S. airline industry during World War II implied the need for some sort of mobilization policy for it after the war. There were many precedents for such a policy, particularly in the merchant marines or navies organized by most major powers. Throughout history, militaries have always contracted, called up, impressed, or simply commandeered civil transportation assets in wartime. Beginning in the nineteenth century...

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16. Vietnam: The Air Mobility War

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pp. 171-189

...Modern turbine-powered aircraft, new cargo-handling systems, command-and-control arrangements, and operational doctrines increased the quantity of airlift available severalfold just before American ground combat units entered the war in 1965. A series of exercises and then practical experience in Vietnam revealed that the enhanced capacity of the system...

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17. Nickel Grass

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pp. 190-199

...world all by himself during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973. He had some help. Most important, the Israeli military fought its way back from the verge of defeat and retook the territories lost in the first days of the war and then some. Those victories were the indispensable backdrop of the brilliant public and private diplomacy of U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger, to end the fighting, avoid a direct military confrontation with the Soviet Union, and set the stage for a...

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18. Airlift Consolidation in the 1970s

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pp. 200-216

...its organizational context. After the establishment of the Department of Defense (DOD) in 1948, the operational, or war-fighting chain of command of the United States ran from the president through the secretary of defense to the commanders in chief (CINCs) of the specified and unified combatant commands. CINCs were enormously powerful individuals, since they were assigned distinct war-fighting missions and responsibilities. To accomplish...

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19. Airlift in the 1980s

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pp. 217-228

...of the Cold War was as close to a golden time for American military airlift practitioners as they would ever get. They worked hard. The myriad tasks involved in moving and linking the forces and global network of bases facing down the Soviet Union placed heavy demands on people and aircraft. Small-scale military contingencies, natural disasters, routine...

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20. Acquisition of the C-17

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pp. 229-239

...aircraft development programs that were as protracted and publicly contentious as that of the C-17. The viability and strategic impact of some other aircraft were controversial, of course. But in comparison to the C-17’s experience, the controversies over such aircraft as the B-36 and FB-111 and air-launched cruise missiles were short and fought out in large part behind...

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21. The First Gulf War

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pp. 240-253

...ton miles flown, the airlift of American combat forces during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the defensive and offensive phases of the 1990–1991 Gulf War, respectively, was by far the largest and fastest in history. More raw tonnage was moved during the Berlin Airlift of 1948–1949 but only over a distance of about 250 miles. So the Berlin effort amounted to an average of 1.7 million ton miles per day (MTMD), while that of Desert Shield...

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22. Messing with Success: The Reorganization of Air Mobility Forces after the Gulf War

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pp. 254-261

...people and resources between two new organizations, the Air Combat Command (ACC) and the Air Mobility Command (AMC). ACC got everything that fired or directly supported the firing of weapons: fighters, bombers, ballistic missiles, warning and control aircraft, and the like. AMC got mobility aircraft: long-range transports and all but a few of the Air Force’s...

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23. The 1990s: Years of Steady-State Surge

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pp. 262-276

...of the 1990s, the term had specific meaning for the Air Mobility Command (AMC) and for the U.S. Air Force in general. Basically, “surge” meant a pace of operations that precluded adequate rest for the command’s personnel and the proper maintenance or replacement of its aircraft and other resources. Like an athlete in training, AMC needed rest between periods...

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24. The 2000s: Years of Steady-State War

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pp. 277-296

...mobility system came out of the first decade of the twenty-first century stronger than it went in. When al Qaeda attacked on September 11, 2001, America’s mobility fleets were robust and modernizing, and their personnel were seasoned though slightly worn by the previous decade’s high operating tempos. Together they would be strained but not broken...

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25. Haiti 2010: The Way It Works

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pp. 297-308

...workings of the air force portion of the American national air mobility system after nearly a century of development and twenty years of a warlike operational tempo. To be sure, the Air Mobility Command (AMC) and the transport and aerial tanker units assigned to overseas joint combatant commands are trained, organized, and equipped for war. But they more frequently lay down their aluminum bridges of support units and aircraft to send relief to people...

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26. The Secret Is People

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pp. 309-314

...the closing awards banquet of the 2011 Airlift/Tanker Association convention, all of the four-star generals in attendance stood on the stage, linked hands, and led over 3,000 members of the American air mobility community in the singing of “God Bless America.” This time there were five of them: General Raymond Johns, the current AMC commander; General Thomas Ryan...


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pp. 315-370

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 371-378


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pp. 379-382

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About the Author

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p. 383-383

...at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach Campus. He teaches courses in manned and unmanned aviation operations, law, and history and conducts research in national defense policy issues. Professor Owen joined the Embry-Riddle faculty in 2002, following a twenty-eight-year career with the U.S. Air Force. His military career included a mix of operational, staff...

Image Plates

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pp. 384-393

E-ISBN-13: 9781597978521
E-ISBN-10: 1597978523
Print-ISBN-13: 9781597978514
Print-ISBN-10: 1597978515

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Airlift, Military -- United States -- History.
  • Transportation, Military -- United States -- History.
  • United States. Air Force -- Transportation -- History.
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