About the Planes Featured in Spear-Carrier in a Backwater War

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In the early 1930s, there was a staggering wealth of information available about aviation in general and particularly the famous pilots and planes of the 1914–1919 era.

G-8 and His Battle Aces was a pulp magazine filled with aviation intrigue. Set in World War I, it was fixed on the battle between good and evil. The plots revolved around G-8 and his daring pilots who fought not only the vile German Huns, but also an assortment of bizarre giant flying threats employed by the enemy to destroy Allied forces. Their gun platforms were the marvelous WWI aircraft: SPADs, Nieuports, Sopwith Camels, Albatross Scouts, and Fokker D.VIIs, and the action was breathtaking. I carefully read each beautifully drawn copy of G-8 and His Battle Aces. For a young kid who loved airplanes and art, this was literature at its finest….

~ Excerpt from Spear-Carrier in a Backwater War

I went to Boeing Field every chance I could get—usually, with my family, and each visit was like renewing an old friendship. When we’d arrive, I’d usually take off by myself, but not without an admonition to return to the car at a prescribed time. (I was always late.) In those days of innocence, the excursions to Boeing Field were ever more exciting because there were no restrictions on getting close to the airplanes—no fences, no yellow tape—only the beauty of the aircraft and the excitement of the entire milieu.

I recall one such visit, probably in late 1935, when I rounded the end of a hanger, and before me, standing in polished splendor, was a Boeing P-26 pursuit fighter. I had followed the development of this plane since it first flew in 1932 and had built models and drawn countless sketches of it, considering it to be arguably one of the most beautiful machines ever taken to the sky. For reasons I never completely understood, the pilots who flew this beloved aircraft had nicknamed it “Peashooter”— admittedly a moniker affectionately given.

Boeing P-26A, National Museum of the United States Air Force.
(US Air Force photo.)

While retaining the old-style open cockpit and exterior wing braces common in fighter aircraft of an earlier era, the P-26 was the first all-metal plane built for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). It served in the Philippines until 1941 and as a frontline fighter for the Chinese during the war against Japan. One aircraft also served in the Spanish Civil War, and amazingly, the Boeing P-26 was flown by the Guatemalan Air Force until 1956 when the P-51 Mustang finally replaced it.

What the P-26 possessed in artistic beauty, it lacked in performance. The landing gear was nonretractable, which created a serious drag problem; and although it was reportedly easy to fly, it had a fast landing speed and a worrisome habit of flipping on its back due to its short nose. Accidents were so common that a huge neck rest was added behind the cockpit to protect those pilots who flipped on landing.

The P-26 aircraft served in 1935 as the first-line fighter of the USAAC. That same year, two other fighter aircraft were being test flown in Europe. In a few ensuing years, each of these airplanes would change the history of the world. The German Messerschmitt Bf 109 would prove deadly against British and American bombers in World War II, while the Hawker Hurricane and its prettier cousin, the Supermarine Spitfire, would win the Battle of Britain…

~ Excerpt from Spear-Carrier in a Backwater War

Bell P-39 Airacobra in flight with all weapons firing at night.
(US Air Force photo.)

The Airacobra was a tender airplane requiring attention to its weight and balance. Manuals covering the P-39 mandated ballast in the nose section in the absence of a normal ammunition load. In the absence of weight in the nose section, the P-39 exhibited a tendency to roll into a dangerous flat spin from which recovery was very difficult. The flat spin risk was vehemently denied by Bell until Soviet test pilots proved the aberration was valid and threatening. The Airacobra also tended to level out of a dive if the stick was not forcibly held in the forward position; nevertheless, maximum dive speed was a respectable 475 mph, and the P-39’s roll rate was better than the Grumman F4F Wildcat or the Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero.

The Airacobra’s mid-engine placement and coolant system made the airplane particularly vulnerable to rear high-pass attacks or attacks from below and astern; and the altitude limitation of the single-stage, single-speed supercharger made the airplane unsuitable for high-altitude combat. However, the P-39 was ideally suited to low-level air-to-air combat and ground targets such as tanks, trucks, trains, and fixed installations since return fire would invariably come from below and ahead. Thus, the P-39 was a perfect fit for the needs of the Soviet Union waging war on the eastern front. The Russian Air Force received 4,719 P-39s during World War II—nearly half of all the models produced. Russian pilots loved the airplane because of its rugged construction, roll rate, and nose cannon, and the P-39s served well in combat against Bf 109s and Fw 190s. The plane also served with US forces in Alaska, Italy, and the southwest Pacific—specifically Guadalcanal. In all, 9,558 Airacobras were built. Production stopped in mid-1944. As of this writing, three Airacobras are still airworthy, and ten are in static displays around the world.

So the girl who came to the party stayed for the last dance. This was an airplane with a beautiful face and a figure that was easy to love, and even though they stole her turbocorsage, she was still one of the prettiest girls at the prom….”

~ Excerpt from Spear-Carrier in a Backwater War


  • The Spirit of St. Louis
  • Fokker F.IV
  • Nieuport Scout
  • Eberhart SE-5E
  • Aeronca C-3
  • Mr. Mulligan (Howard DGA-6)
  • Wedell-Willams Model 44
  • The Gee Bee
  • Boeing P-26A
  • Waco-ZQC-6, ca 1937
  • Lockheed Model 10 Electra, NR16020
  • Bell Airacuda
  • Boeing Yankee Clipper, ca 1939
  • Bell P-39 Airacobra
  • Supermarine Spitfire
  • Hawker Hurricane Mark I
  • JU 87
  • Supermarine Spitfire Mark IIA
  • Supermarine S.6B seaplane
  • Focke-Wulf FW 190D-9
  • Messerschmitt Bf 109G-10
  • Focke-Wulf Fw 190
  • Brewster F2A-3
  • USS Akron (ZRS-4)
  • USS Macon
  • Curtiss P-6E Hawk
  • Curtiss P-36 Hawk
  • Curtiss P-40E Warhawk
  • SBD-3 Dauntless dive-bomber
  • Douglas TBD-1 Devastator
  • Piper J-5 Cub Cruiser
  • Bell P-39F-1-BE Airacobra
  • Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter
  • General Motors FM-2 “Wildcat”
  • PT-22 Ryan
  • PT-13D Stearman
  • B-24 Liberator
  • Vultee BT-13 Valiant
  • North American B-25 Mitchell
  • Lockheed P-38J Lightning
  • Cessna AT-17 Bobcat
  • Memphis Belle
  • Martin B-26B-55-MA Marauder
  • Bell X-1, #1 Glamorous Glennis
  • US Army Air Forces Vultee BT-13A
  • North American AT-6
  • Consolidated B-24D Liberator
  • Douglas C-54 Skymaster
  • Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express
  • Consolidated C-109
  • Curtiss C-46A-10-CU
  • C-46 Commando
  • P-51s and P-47s
  • P-51B and P-51C Mustang fighters
  • Mitsubishi G4 “Betty”
  • Mitsubishi Ki-57 “Topsy”
  • Kawasaki Ki-61 “Tony”
Drawing by Edward C. Larson.
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