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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

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WWI Flying Aces: A Dangerous Descent

Evening Program with Book Signing

Monday, September 16, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.
Code: 1W0059

The archetype of the WWI flying ace is a familiar one: dashing, seemingly invincible, and covered with medals. These bold pilots climbed into aircraft of canvas and wood equipped with a single machine gun to engage in treacherous one-on-one encounters with their enemy counterparts in the skies of France.

While their heroism echoed traditional notions of chivalry and sportsmanship, theirs was a distinctly modern—and deadly—mode of combat. The personal toll that accompanied its aftermath was also something entirely new and unforeseen.

Aviation and maritime historian Mark Wilkins draws on his new book, Aero-Neurosis: Pilots of the First World War and the Psychological Legacies of Combat, to examine the suffering that emerged from the birth of aerial warfare. He delves into the rise of airpower, industrialization, and mechanization, and how these elements profoundly affected this cohort of young pilots, who largely came from rural backgrounds.

He looks at how these men coped with shooting down other aviators, who were by their own admission, kindred spirits, as well as why in their postwar lives, many still craved the excitement of aerial combat, despite its attendant horrors.

Wilkins also explores how military medicine responded to a wholly new type of neurosis that grew out of the unique conditions of combat flying, and how those efforts gave rise to a correspondingly new field of specialty, aviation psychiatry.

Aero-Neurosis (Pen and Sword Books) is available for sale and signing.

S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)