Every since the Wright brothers first took to the sky in 1903, airplanes have been part of the way the modern world travels, fights wars, ships goods and explores unchartered territory.
But which planes have made the biggest impact?
Oxford resident Philip Handleman set out to answer that question with his new book. He, along with co-writer and New York Times Bestselling Author Walter J. Boyne, will release “The 25 Most Influential Aircraft of All Time,” through Lyons Press on March 1.
According to Handleman, the book explores 25 aircraft that have helped shape the course of history.
For Handleman, his love of airplanes began in childhood and was passed down to him by his parents.
His mother, who grew up just outside of the Cleveland Municipal Airport (today known as the Hopkins International Airport) in Cleveland, Ohio, had many magical experiences, including seeing many of history’s aviation greats, such as American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, on the airport’s runway.
His father bravely served in the United States Air Corps for three years during World War II.
Both shared their stories with Handleman as he was growing up and even took him on his first airplane ride as a child in a Piper J-3 Cub in 1963.
“I’ve been hooked on flying ever since and on telling the story of aviation,” recalled Handleman. “It’s a wonderful story. It’s a story of wonder and magic.”
At age 20, Handleman earned his private pilot’s license, which allows him to fly aircraft with passengers.
He and his wife, Mary, purchased a private airport in Oxford, where they have resided for the last 30 years, surrounding themselves with books and mementos dedicated to the history of aviation.
Handleman hopes to share this love of “reaching for the sky” with others through his new book.
“We hope people glean from this book this sense of one’s ability to change the world,” Handleman said. “You can see that some of these people who were behind these great aircraft were extremely unheralded . . . There is a lesson there. ‘Yes, you can’ is the lesson. These are all, to Walt and I, inspiring stories and we hope that people will be inspired by them and realize there is nothing preventing them from making equally important contributions to the world. We hope to . . . see more people, especially young people, take up an interest in aerospace.”
Handleman listed military aircraft designer Ed Heinemann as one of these inspirational heroes.
Though Heinemann dropped out of high school, he later went on to become Douglas Aircraft’s chief designer of naval attack aircraft and designed nearly two dozen aircraft throughout his rich career.
Heinemann’s Douglas SBD Dauntless is just one of those aircraft explored in Handleman’s book. It is best remembered as the bomber that delivered the fatal blows to the Japanese carriers during the pivotal Battle of Midway in June 1942.
Handleman said his book will include an in-depth look at the history of a number of other significant aircraft. From military trainer aircraft such as the Boeing-Stearman to fighter aircraft such as the Lockheed P-38 Lightning to locally-based transport aircraft, such as the Ford Trimotor.
The book also includes an introduction written by Norman Augustine, the retired CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation; a foreword written by famed aircraft designer Burt Rutan; and is prefaced by William Stearman, a former member of the National Security Council who is the son of aircraft engineer Lloyd Stearman.
“The 25 Most Influential Aircraft of All Time” will be widely available in bookstores and on Amazon for $35.