SPAD VII vs Albatros D III: 1917–18 (Duel)

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When originally conceived, the French SPAD VII and German Albatros D II represented steps away from an emphasis on maneuver in aerial combat in favor of speed and durability – factors that came into play in hit-and-run tactics. At the end of 1916, however, Albatros tried to have the best of both worlds by incorporating the sesquiplane wing of the nimble Nieuport 17 into its D III. The result combined the better downward view and maneuverability of the Nieuport with the power and twin machine guns of the Albatros D II, but at a high price – a disturbing tendency for the single-spar lower wing to fail in a dive.

While Albatros (and the Austrian Oeffag firm, which built the fighter under license) sought to alleviate that weakness with various reinforcing measures, the Germans developed tactics to maximize the D III's strengths and minimize its shortcomings. At the same time, the French worked to improve the SPAD VII with more power and a more reliable cooling system before moving on to the twin-gunned SPAD XIII. While all that was going on, the Albatros D III became a mainstay of the German and Austro-Hungarian air services in frequent encounters with SPAD VIIs flown by French, Belgian, British, Italian and American airmen.

Gladiator vs CR.42 Falco: 1940–41 (Duel)

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British and Italian biplanes clashed over the Mediterranean at Crete and Malta, and in East and North Africa early in World War II. Both the Gloster Gladiator and the Fiat CR.42 Falco represented the peak in the development of the biplane fighter, which could trace its lineage back to World War I. However, by the time both aircraft entered service in the late 1930s, they were already obsolete. Nevertheless, they gave sterling service on all fronts in the Mediterranean and Africa in 1940-41. Indeed, the CR.42 was the Regia Aeronautica's staple fighter in both North and East Africa, Greece and over Malta in 1940-41, during which time its pilots routinely fought British and Commonwealth squadrons equipped in the main with Gladiator biplanes. Some bitter dogfights were fought between these two types as the Allies attempted to gain control of the skies over North Africa, Greece and East Africa. Both types were flown in the main by highly experienced pre-war pilots, and this in turn made for some closely fought engagements. The first known combat between the CR.42 and the Gladiator took place on 14 June 1940 over North Africa and the last engagement between the two types occurred on 24 October 1941 over the East African front.

A-6 Intruder Units of the Vietnam War (Combat Aircraft)

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Designed in the years following the Korean war and then manufactured for over 30 years starting in 1960, the A-6 quickly became the most capable attack aircraft in the US Navy's stable. The first squadron, VA-75, made its initial deployment directly into combat in south-east Asia in 1965, and, over the next eight years, ten US Navy and four Marine Intruder squadrons would conduct combat operations throughout Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. After initial problems and a high loss rate, the type proved itself beyond all doubt as the Naval services' best night and foul-weather platform, particularly during the region's notorious monsoon season, which could ground almost all other in-theatre aircraft due to heavy rains and low visibility. The A-6 Intruder became a true classic of naval aviation over the skies of North Vietnam, with 14 of its crews being honoured with the second highest decoration in Naval service, the Navy Cross. The cost was high as 69 Intruders were lost in combat to all causes during the war. This work tells the complete story of these aircraft in combat during the Vietnam War.

La-5/7 vs Fw 190: Eastern Front 1942–45 (Duel)

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Soviet fighter aviation suffered terribly at the hands of the Jagdwaffe in the first year of the war in the east, and with the arrival of JG 51 and its Fw 190s on the Stalingrad Front in September 1942 things only got worse for the hard-pressed Red Army Air Force pilots. However, help was on its way in the form of the re-engined LaGG-3 fighter, which was fitted with a powerful air-cooled M-82 radial engine. Designated the La-5, the new fighter was capable of withstanding more punishment than the fragile LaGG-3, and it was also appreciably faster and had a greater rate of climb. It was more of a handful to fly, however, but the new generation of better trained pilots who were led into combat by the survivors of 1941-42 quickly found the La-5 (and, later, the improved La-7) very much to their liking. Arriving in the frontline in August 1942, the new Lavochkin fighters soon found themselves pitted into action on the Central Sector against the equally new Fw 190As of JG 51. The first clashes took place in November of that year, and from then on the Focke-Wulf fighter would regularly clash with its counterpart from Lavochkin.

F-86 Sabre vs MiG-15: Korea 1950–53 (Duel)

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As the routed North Korean People's Army (NKPA) withdrew into the mountainous reaches of their country and the People's Republic of China (PRC) funneled in its massive infantry formations in preparation for a momentous counter-offensive in the last months of 1950, both lacked adequate air power to challenge US and UN air supremacy over both the battlefields and the logistics channels from China into North Korea. Reluctantly, Josef Stalin agreed to provide the requisite air cover, introducing the superior swept-wing MiG-15 to counter the American's straight-wing F-80 jets and to repel the United States Air Force (USAF) B-29 bomber formations that were interdicting the PRC's flow of troops and supplies into North Korea. This in turn prompted the USAF, against its conventional wisdom of retaining its first-line air-defence fighters to face Soviet air forces across the 'Iron Curtain' in Europe, to deploy its very best – the F-86A Sabre – to counter this threat. Thus began a two-and-a-half-year struggle in the skies over a corner of North Korea known as "MiG Alley."

In this period, the unrelenting campaign for aerial superiority witnessed the introduction of successive models of these two revolutionary jets – the MiG-15bis, the F-86E, and eventually the F-86F – into combat. It also saw the transition of operational leadership on the communist side from the Soviet "volunteers" to the newly formed Chinese PLAAF air divisions, and witnessed the re-introduction of the NKPAF, with its "just trained" MiG-15 units, into the air-combat arena. This meticulously researched study not only provides technical descriptions of the two types and their improved variants, complete with a "fighter pilot's assessment" of these aircraft, but also chronicles the entire scope of their aerial duel in "MiG Alley" by employing the recollections of the surviving combatants – including Russian, Chinese, and North Korean pilots – who participated.