Book Review: Harnessing the Airplane: American and British Cavalry Responses to a New Technology, 1903-1939


by Lori A. Henning

Normal: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019. Pp. xii, 226. Figures, tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0806161841

Integrating the Airplane into the Cavalry

In a study that has important lessons for modern military establishments, Prof. Henning (St. Bonaventure) looks at the ways in which the British and American cavalries considered the potential value of fixed wing aviation, a new, unreliable, and untested technology, a subject largely neglected in the literature of air power.

The two services differed in their responses to the new technology, in part due to cultural differences, and in part to significantly different perceptions of the role of cavalry, Britons seeing it as a multi-mission force fighting primarily mounted, and Americans primarily as mounted infantry. Initial legitimate objections about the limitations of the technology were gradually overcome, particularly with regard to the use of airplanes for reconnaissance, and both services would eventually become comfortable with their use.

Henning has a refreshing take on those who questioned the value of airplanes against the frequently overblown claims of early air enthusiasts, given the limited capabilities of airplanes until well into the 1930s, and is rightly critical of the aviation enthusiasts and historians who persist in describing those questioning the utility of airplanes as “technology resisters” and hidebound reactionaries.

With Harnessing the Airplane, Henning has made a very valuable contribution to our understanding the adoption of airplanes by the world’s armies, and a reminder that it usually takes time for new technologies to attain their greatest value.


Note: Harnessing the Airplane is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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