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Alexander P. de Seversky and the Quest for Air Power

Libbey, James K.

Publication Year: 2013

Today, air power is a vital component of the U.S. armed forces. James Libbey, in Alexander P. de Seversky and the Quest for Air Power, highlights the contributions of an aviation pioneer who made much of it possible.

Graduating from the Imperial Russian Naval Academy at the start of World War I, de Seversky lost a leg in his first combat mission. He still shot down thirteen German planes and became the empire's most decorated combat naval pilot.

While serving as a naval attache in the United States in 1918, de Seversky elected to escape the Bolshevik Revolution and offered his services as a pilot and consulting engineer to the U.S. War Department. He proved inventive both in the technology of advanced military aircraft and in the strategy of exercising air power. He worked for famed aviation advocate Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell, who encouraged the naturalized citizen to patent his inventions, such as an in-flight refueling system and a gyroscopically synchronized bombsight. His creative spirit then spurred him to design and manufacture advanced military aircraft.

When World War II broke out in Europe, de Seversky became America's best-known philosopher, prophet, and advocate for air power, even serving as an adviser to the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. The highlight of his life occurred in 1970 when the Aviation Hall of Fame enshrined de Seversky for "his achievements as a pilot, aeronautical engineer, inventor, industrialist, author, strategist, consultant, and scientific advances in aircraft design and aerospace technology."

This book will appeal to readers with a special interest in military history and to anyone who wants to learn more about American air power's most important figures.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Alexander P. de Seversky lived such a long and event-filled life that a reasonably complete biography can emerge only with the help of numerous individuals and organizations. In terms of the latter, the starting point for research began with support from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University...

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1. Introduction: The Russian in the Russian Context

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pp. 1-13

Alexander P. de Seversky was born Aleksandr Nikolaevich Prokof’ev-Severskii. An obscure bureaucrat in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs thought he would do a favor for the twenty-three-year-old Aleksandr (Alexander) when he applied for a passport to travel to the United States. Recognizing...

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2. The Russian Ace in the Great War

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pp. 14-29

When Alexander P. de Seversky arrived at the Imperial Russian Navy air station at Revel (today, Tallinn) at the start of July 1915, he was one of only a handful of qualified pilots then available to the Baltic Fleet. He spent a couple days at Revel flying and becoming acquainted with the common piece...

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3. Revolutionary Changes

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pp. 30-48

Early in March 1917, Alexander P. de Seversky received appointment as squadron leader of the Second Pursuit Squadron being established on Ösel Island and employing the new M-11 flying boat. Unfortunately, on one of his Petrograd trips between the Shchetinin Aircraft factory and the Admiralty...

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4. The Russian Test Pilot and Consultant in America

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pp. 49-63

For nearly three years, Alexander P. de Seversky kept one eye on Russia in hopes a Communist collapse would allow him to go home and the other eye on the sky in hopes he could find an aviation position that would reward him financially and release his inventive talents. By the time he and his mother,...

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5. The Russian Inventor

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pp. 64-79

On March 22, 1921, Alexander P. de Seversky arrived at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, home to the U.S. Army Air Service Engineering Division, carrying with him letters of introduction. They revealed to Maj. Thurman H. Bane, division chief, a strong desire on the part of General Mitchell to...

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6. The Russian Inventor Becomes an American Designer

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pp. 80-96

At first, Alexander P. de Seversky’s life in the early fall of 1923 appeared to be no more than an extension of his previous activities. He returned to his office at Sperry Gyroscope Company and finished a variable speed drive mechanism for his calculator, filing an application with the U.S. Patent Office...

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7. The Innovative Designer

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pp. 97-112

Filling out a form and paying a fee of incorporation have little to do with actually establishing a company. Alexander P. de Seversky had to add flesh to a charter that by itself was all too easily accomplished in Delaware. It is fascinating to watch the Major maneuver around as he began building his...

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8. The P-35 Manufacturer

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pp. 113-129

There is irony in the fact that Alexander P. de Seversky ended up manufacturing pursuit or fighter aircraft for the U.S. Army Air Corps. After all, he had spent years trying to enhance the destructive value and deadly accuracy of multiengine bombers via his C-1 and succeeding bombsights. Beginning...

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9. Troubled Times

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pp. 130-143

The rush of publicity enjoyed by the P-35 seemed to favorably influence everyone except the Procurement Board of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Meanwhile, a series of events marked the end to Alexander P. de Seversky’s halcyon days as an aircraft manufacturer. A minor irritant and a major loss started...

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10. The P-35 Manufacturer Loses His Company

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pp. 144-161

By June 1938 Alexander P. de Seversky had reached a point of near crisis. He saw that the light at the end of the tunnel belonged to a locomotive barreling down the track leading to the destruction of his company. That month production at Seversky Aircraft stood at one plane each workday....

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11. The Making of an Air Power Prophet [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 162-177

Alexander and Evelyn de Seversky arrived in New York on board the SS Normandie on Monday, June 12, 1939. At the 21 Club, the Major held an impromptu news conference. Newspapermen were intrigued by the views of this former combat pilot who designed military aircraft. He had just spent...

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12. Prophet of Air Power

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pp. 178-192

Because Alexander P. de Seversky inherited the fundamental concepts of air power from Gen. Billy Mitchell, it is worth a few moments to examine the source and substance of Mitchell’s ideas. Chapter 4 discusses briefly the general’s experience and appreciation for the importance of aircraft in...

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13. Victory through Air Power

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pp. 193-211

By New Year’s Day 1942, the war front presented a grim spectacle from the American point of view. After Pearl Harbor and despite many hours of warning, the U.S. military in the Philippines under the surprisingly irresolute leadership of Gen. Douglas MacArthur suffered Little Pearl Harbor. Japanese...

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14. The Prophet at Home and Abroad

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pp. 212-231

Near the time when the movie Victory through Air Power opened in New York City, Walt Disney, wife Lillian, and daughters Diane and Sharon stayed for several days at the de Seversky mansion on Long Island Sound. Alexander and Evelyn de Seversky often had company at what they considered...

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15. The Prophet Challenged

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pp. 232-248

Alexander P. de Seversky returned to the United States on August 28, 1945, to a warm welcome from Evelyn and Vodka, as well as to a grateful reception from Secretary of War–designate Robert P. Patterson. The latter soon received the major’s revised and polished report on air power in the European...

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16. Return of the Media Personality

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pp. 249-266

When de Seversky finally realized his extremely ambitious and newly minted aviation corporation was not going to succeed, he chose to return to his wartime position of, in the words of his editor friend Eugene Lyons, “airpower crusader.” Conveniently, the formal headquarters of his now-ghost...

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17. The Futurist

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pp. 267-282

In April 1961 the McGraw-Hill Book Company published Alexander P. de Seversky’s third book, America: Too Young to Die! The title alone might help explain why the book attracted so little attention. Major newspapers, for example, ignored it. The title can best be described as semi-hysterical,...


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pp. 283-328

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 329-336


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pp. 337-348

About the Author

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pp. 349-380

E-ISBN-13: 9781612341804
E-ISBN-10: 1612341802
Print-ISBN-13: 9781612341798
Print-ISBN-10: 1612341799

Publication Year: 2013