Robert R. “Boom” Powell grew up in Long Island, New York, the son of a World War II B-24 Liberator navigator who later became known as a comic book artist (Sheena, Mr. Mystic, Tales From the Crypt, etc.). He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania on an ROTC scholarship before going to Naval flight training. He flew Douglas A-4 Skyhawks in Vietnam and later as an instructor pilot in the Skyhawk. Robert transitioned to the RA-5C Vigilante and ended up as an adversary pilot based at NAS Oceana. He also spent time as an LSO for an RA-5C training squadron for three years. Robert retired as a Commander and transitioned to civilian life flying Boeing 747s for Pan American. He remains an active flier today and often flies WWI replicas at the Virginia Beach Military Aviation Museum. It was in the Navy that Robert began writing where he had a regular column in The Hook. His first book was Ben Drew: The Katzenjammer Ace (2001). He currently lives in Virginia Beach with his wife, Marie, of 48 years along with two large poodles.
This hard back book’s cover (and dust jacket) features a Boeing F/A-18 Hornet being closely watched by three LSOs. The back cover depicts an LSO team watching a F/A-18F Super Hornet touch down on the USS Harry S Truman with an inset photo of a 1950s-era LSO. The first thing you will notice upon opening the book are the clear, well reproduced black and white pictures and the vivid color photographs gracing nearly every glossy page. Each chapter is complete with end notes that include references, attributions, and additional information. I counted 224 black and white photographs, 95 color pictures, eight black and white drawings, and three paintings.
Powell provides a history of carrier operations from the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) perspective starting in the early twenties through today. This is probably the first history about the LSOs published to date. Robert weaves in the impact of the LSO with the history of carrier operations along with the development of visual landing aids provided by the LSO. Along with this, you get drawn into the development of the aircraft, from biplanes to supersonic jets. The major changes in the carriers themselves are also addressed from their beginning to the modern day nuclear powered floating cities.
Robert Powell starts off in the beginning with Eugene Ely’s take-off from the anchored light cruiser USS Birmingham in November 1910. Two months later, Eugene Ely landed aboard a stationary USS Pennsylvania, and after lunch, flew off again. The HMS Furious provided the first aircraft landing on a moving ship on August 2, 1917. Unfortunately, while operationally aircraft could be launched off of the HMS Furious, landing was an experience in how you wanted to crash: on the deck or in the water. It wasn’t till early 1923 that the LSO came into being on the USS Langley. Up until then, aircraft landings were completely up to the pilot’s judgement. The Commander of the USS Langley, Kenneth Whiting, along with his exec and senior aviator essentially became back-seat drivers, waving their hands to the pilot to tell him if he was too high, too low, or just right. The first ‘official’ LSOs were probably pilots Jake Gorton and Leo Compton in 1925 on the USS Langley. The British finally adopted the practice in 1935. As you can see by the following chapter list, Robert Powell provides an in-depth coverage:
The Chapters include:
I found the short LSO biographies quite interesting as they provided a nice background from the LSO perspective. USS Enterprise LSO Eugene “Robin” Lindsey’s efforts during the Battle of Midway are a good example. A second wave of Japanese torpedo and dive bombers were on their way in and he and his assistant LSO Jim Daniels, waved off the USS Enterprise aircraft from their landing pattern. He and Jim Daniels climbed into the back seat of a pair of SBDs and began firing at an incoming Kate with their twin 30s. Who got credit for flaming the Kate is still up for debate.
I really appreciated Robert R. “Boom” Powell’s book and his ability to weave in aircraft, carrier, and LSO developments into the historical timeline. The added bonus of the personal LSO stories just add up to make this a great book for any aficionado.
I would also note that there is a special offer available: the first 100 books ordered will be autographed by Robert R. “Boom” Powell.
My thanks to Specialty Press and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.