As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very knowledgeable about aviation, but admittedly, I enjoy a good combat aircraft every now and then. Francis Crosby has put together an encyclopedia of fighter and bomber aircraft from WWI to the present day. The book is logically broken up into four sections. The first two sections are about fighters from 1914-1945 and 1945-present day. The last two sections cover the bomber aircraft and are similarly divided up by the above dates. Each section is organized alphabetically by manufacturer name. For example, the F4U Corsair would be in the 1914-1945 fighter section under the entry for Vought since that was the manufacturer. Between each major section are short essays covering the historical development of fighters/bombers, as well as some notable operations.
While the book (realistically) can’t cover each and every fighter or bomber in existence, the survey is wide, but heavily focused on British and American aircraft. Each individual entry gives a few paragraphs on the development and service of an airplane and there is a separate box listing some basic performance characteristics. Since many of these aircraft received upgrades or modifications throughout their service lives, the performance data for each plane naturally only covers a specific variant/model. One nice thing about this book is that each entry contains at least one photo of the aircraft in question. Owing to the fact that this is an encyclopedia (a tertiary source) it’s unreasonable to expect a massive amount of in-depth technical data on every single plane. Some of the entries only cover half a page, while others cover upwards of two pages. Therefore, this book serves its purpose well as a reference work. Anyone wishing to learn more about the aircraft could easily broaden their research with more in-depth sources.
The line between fighter and bomber becomes a little blurry once you get into the present day with the introduction of more multi-role aircraft. For example, the F/A-18 Hornet and the F-15 Eagle are covered twice in both the present-day fighter and bomber sections. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is only given a short paragraph. The bomber version of the Eagle is of course the F-15E Strike Eagle.
The critiques I have of this book are fairly minor. Firstly, some of the information is historically inaccurate, but that’s mostly because the text needs to cover such a broad range of information for each aircraft in such a limited amount of space. Secondly, owing to the publication year of 2006, some of the information on the more modern aircraft is a bit dated. Finally, and most annoyingly, Crosby’s writing is a bit too hagiographic in some places. I didn’t count, but there are quite a number of aircraft that were the “best/greatest/most legendary fighters or bombers” in history. Sometimes it’s quantified, but after a while, it all starts to sound the same. I kept thinking, “So, if this plane is the most legendary plane in all the world, then what about that previous plane that you wrote was the most legendary plane in all the world? When everything is special, then the term ceases to have any meaning and relevance.” In any case, the issues with the book don’t heavily detract from it.
Overall, the book is simple and unpretentious. It certainly isn’t mind-blowing, but as a quick reference, it works just fine. If you’re looking for more in-depth information, then I suggest you use this as a starting point for further research. As with any tertiary source, cross-referencing the information with more in-depth and reputable sources helps to mitigate inaccurate information.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (Good. Borrow from a library).
On a personal note, the Oregon Air National Guard flies the F-15C Eagle, and on a clear day, you can sometimes see them flying around. You’ll definitely hear them, anyway. I grew up in an era of 4th generation fighters. The F-15 Eagle is big, powerful, easily recognizable, and one of my personal favorites (among a few others).