One of precious few purpose-built firefighting airplanes, a Bombardier CL-415 drops water on a fire in Simi Valley, California in November 2018. Over 870,000 acres of California land burned last year, according to Cal Fire.

The Pilots Who Fight California’s Wildfires

With a squadron of ancient airplanes, these firefighters are usually the first on the scene.

Over the now-peaceful farms of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, which 75 years ago was within Drop Zone C for D-Day paratroopers, a C-47 returns to base after delivering its paratroop reenactors. They were there for the 2014 commemoration of one of the most momentous days of World War II.

Return to Normandy

On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, C-47s go back to France to honor those who crossed the Channel.

Key to World War II action, PBYs still cast a spell. This magnificent specimen is a PBY‑6A, an amphibious variant (note the landing gear tucked into the port side).

Legends of an Ocean-Crossing Seaplane

A wide view of World War II through the blisters of PBY Catalinas.

Marines and sailors are finishing their repairs at the “Airport in the Sky,” expected to reopen this month.

At Catalina Island, Time to Send in the Marines

About 22 miles across the sea from California, an island's old runway gets a makeover from an unusual work crew.

The Fairchild Republic A-10 is the seventh in our list of MacGyvered airplanes: It went to war, it didn’t quite fit the need, and techs tinkered with it until it did. Some of the most ingenious improvements in combat aircraft came not from the factory but from the frontlines.

Combat Is the Mother of Invention

Seven airplanes that got better in the field.

This de Havilland DH-4B, hanging at the National Postal Museum, was an airmail workhorse.

Marking Airmail’s Centennial

See a new exhibit, collect the special edition stamp.

Bell Helicopter’s prototype for the AH-1G Cobra flies in front of two UH-1 Hueys, the aircraft it was designed to protect.

Birth of the Cobra

Mike Folse proved that a helicopter could fly and shoot at the same time.

On July 17, Doc, a restored Boeing B-29, took off from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas, the culmination of years of effort from hundreds of supporters.

Meet “Doc,” One of Only Two Flying B-29s in the World

For 42 years, <i>Fifi</i> was the only airworthy Superfortress. Now it has company.

Three years after the 1955 dedication, cadets transferred to a newly built academy (the academy chapel is shown here).

Class of ’59

No buildings, no flight lessons, no problem. Some 60 years later, the first Air Force Academy cadets look back.

The pilot of the P-61 Midnight Mickey prepares for a 1944 mission over Saipan: hunting the enemy in the dark.

Beware the Black Widow

The P-61, the Beaufighter, and the first air war fought in the dark.

One of the Civil Air Patrol’s Cessna 182s is retrofitted with all the instruments (but no weapons) of an MQ-1 Predator drone.

Cessnas Pretending to Be Predators

Small airplanes sometimes act as surrogates in live training exercises.

★ Consolidated B-24 Liberator ★ The big, four-engine B-24 never shared the glory of Boeing’s beautiful B-17, but it worked harder. It could carry a heavier load—8,000 pounds of bombs—over a longer distance—2,850 miles. It is also the most produced U.S. aircraft of the war: 18,000 were built.

Mission to Ploesti: B-24 Liberators

★ Grumman TBF Avenger ★ The Grumman TBF, or TBM if one of the 7,546 built by General Motors’ Eastern Division, was a three-seat sub stalker and torpedo bomber that scored a big victory in the Battle of Guadalcanal by sinking the 37,000-ton Japanese battleship Hiei. More Avengers were lost than ships destroyed in the Pacific, however, including one TBM that suffered engine failure after catapulting off the light carrier San Jacinto. The pilot, the 20 year-old George H.W. Bush, bailed out.

Hellcats, Helldivers, and Avengers

In Vietnam, the U.S. Navy used the F-4 for ground attack.

What Couldn’t the F-4 Phantom Do?

A tribute to McDonnell’s masterpiece fighter jet.

A classic Stearman flying above Santa Monica Airport.

Can This Airport Be Saved?

The fight over one of the nation’s busiest single-runway general aviation airports

This used to be an airport. Now it’s grass.

The Day They Shut Down Meigs Field

This former Chicago landmark is a cautionary tale for small airports everywhere.

A U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape specialist trains on PARASIM. The parachute straps and steering controls connect to sensors that adjust the simulation displayed inside the trainee's virtual reality helmet.

We Test-Drive the Country’s Only Skydiving Simulator

Terminal velocity without the wind blast

The Old Bolds outside their favorite eatery in Oceanside, California.

Tales of the Old, Bold Pilots

In Oceanside, California, veteran fliers swap stories over breakfast.

During the Korean War, the first Soviet combat jet ended B-29 daytime raids.

The Jet that Shocked the West

How the MiG-15 grounded the U.S. bomber fleet in Korea

The McCook Field test pilots in 1924.

The First Test Pilots

At old McCook Field, the art of flying became a science.

loading icon