12 Air & Space Stories from 2017 You Need to Read

Some of our favorite space and aviation stories from the last year.

Helicopter escapades, Cassini's final plunge, and love for the Warthog make up some of our most interesting stories this year. (Collage: Ted Lopez)
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From stunning acts of bravery to the quiet determination of rocket builders, from ghost stories to lobster mayhem, here are some of the best stories in Air & Space / Smithsonian from the last year.

Before we get to the list, we also published two Collector’s Editions this year, must-haves for any aviation and space fan: 50 Greatest Moments of the Space Age, and 25 Famous Flights. You can find all our special issues and ebooks here. Also in 2017, nearly the entire country looked up together to watch a solar eclipse; remember it fondly with our special report on the event.

Keep up with our most popular topics throughout the year by bookmarking our sections for drones, exploring space in virtual reality, the search for life on other worlds, and our path back to the moon. Inspire the next generation of pilots and space travelers by sending them A&S | NEXT, on the web or as the tear-away center section in every print edition. And we’re proud to keep bringing you incredible images from aviation and space photographers who take over our Instagram account each week. (Would you like to participate? Send us a message on Instagram and we’ll check out your photos!) 

Finally, remember that your chances to see a moonship in person have dramatically increased, now that the Apollo 11’s Command Module has begun its tour to several cities around the country through September 2019.

Now, on to our favorite stories of 2017.

1. We Built the Saturn V

Still the most powerful rocket ever built, the Saturn V turned 50 this year. We listened to the huge accomplishments and dreadful losses of the Apollo program’s men and women, from the flight director to green engineers, in their own words.

2. Would You Fly on an Airliner Without a Pilot?

Don’t give such an emphatic “no” until you read about the technology available today.

3. Flight of the Airsick Lobsters

A Navy pilot describes a flight tradition that went a bit sideways and dropped a dozen lobster bombs on the Eastern seaboard.

4. Is the Phantom Planet Real?

Maybe there really are nine planets after all. (Stay seated, Pluto.) These astronomers are racing to find a new solar system resident they’re sure is there.  

5. Cameramen in Vietnam

We profiled some of the U.S. Air Force combat photographers who created the visual record and a few iconic images in Vietnam.

6. Bob Pardo Once Pushed a Crippled F-4 Home with His F-4

“To make matters worse, the pressure of the tailhook against Pardo’s windscreen produced ominous spider-web-like cracks in the glass. Then his left engine caught fire.” Read this edge-of-your-seat tale of a pilot who wasn’t going to let his wingman go down over North Vietnam.

7. The Time a Stolen Helicopter Landed on the White House Lawn

Shortly after midnight on February 17, 1974, this 20-year-old pilot, despondent over his muddied future and a failed relationship, took off in a UH-1B Huey and led authorities on a wild ride that most certainly would have ended much differently today.

8. Call in the A-10

The Warthog is one of the most popular aircraft in the military, and it keeps surviving despite U.S. Air Force efforts to kill it.

9. Cassini’s Last Moments, in Gory Detail

For space fans, it was an emotional moment when NASA lost contact with its flagship mission around Saturn in September. Its end was highly planned, and we covered exactly what would happen when it plunged into the ringed planet.

10. World War II’s Famous Ghost Plane

Lady Be Good was a B-24D Liberator that disappeared following a raid on Naples in 1943. When the wreck was finally discovered in Libya in 1958, no human remains were found. National Air and Space Museum curator Roger Connor shared some of the legends about what happened to the crew.

11. Laika Declassified

The truth about the first dog in space came out a little at a time, over decades. Space historian Anatoly Zak tells us what’s been uncovered, and what remains a secret.

12. Our favorite photo galleries of 2017.

A photographer captured stunning portraits of these birds of prey at raptor sanctuaries. This $900 book with 900 illustrations celebrates the 90th anniversary of PanAm’s founding. These rare color images from World War II show the war the way it really looked. This photographer traveled to 23 countries to record the stories of 100 World War II veterans. The Chandra X-Ray Observatory has been recording the violent, beautiful history of our universe for almost 20 years.

See you next year!

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