The year we were born.

Italy’s military precision jet team, Frecce Tricolori (“Tricolor Arrows”), performs over Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (Katsuhiko Tokunaga)
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­Five years before the end of the cold war, the year 1986 brought technological nightmares to both of the world’s superpowers. For the Americans, it was the fiery loss of a space shuttle and crew; for the Soviets, the explosion of a nuclear reactor called Chernobyl. While their nations’ proxies battled in Central America (with the Iran-Contra affair coming to light in the fall), President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sat down in Reykjavik, Iceland that October for an arms control summit. (Though the talks collapsed over the development of Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, the summit led to an agreement the following spring on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which reduced tensions between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.) Before the year was out, each side could claim a world-class achievement in aviation or spaceflight. The Soviets had Mir, the planet’s only space station, while a small team of American entrepreneurs built and flew an airplane nonstop around the world on a single tank of gas. This was the world that Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine entered when it debuted in April 1986. For the next 25 years, the magazine followed stories in space technology and exploration, military aviation and missile development, and sport aviation and record-setting flights.

From This Story

Click through the gallery above for a month-by-month photo album of what was happening in the year we were born.

Paul Hoversten is the Air & Space executive editor.

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