Warbird Obsession

It’s an addiction. Admitting you have it is the first step.

(John M. Dibbs / The Plane Picture Co.)

“Warbird intoxication is a widespread ailment, even if most of the afflicted get no closer than photographs or static aircraft displays and flybys at airshows,” according to author John Fleischman. One of the most deeply afflicted is photographer John M. Dibbs, who for more than a decade has shot air-to-air photographs of World War II-vintage aircraft for his “Flying Legends” calendars. In 2006 he gathered some of his favorite images in The High Battleground: Air to Air with World War II’s Greatest Combat Aircraft, with text by aviation writer James Busha. Click on the thumbnail images below to see more photographs from this remarkable book.

"There are few more dangerous afflictions than Spitfire fever," says Fleischman. The single-seat fighter aircraft, with its distinctive elliptical wing, was the only British fighter to remain in production throughout World War II; during its nine-year run, more than 22,500 Spitfires were manufactured.

“Our dive-bombing technique in the Spitfire was pretty standard and very quick,” Squadron Leader Charles Edmondson told Busha. “You dive, you bomb, you pull out and then you black out. When you awoke a few seconds later, you got the hell out of there!” The Spitfire pictured above is part of the Shuttleworth Collection, based in Old Warden, U.K.


(John M. Dibbs / The Plane Picture Co.)

The French writer-aviator Antoine De Saint-Exupéry considered the P-38 “a flying torpedo that has nothing whatever to do with flying and, with all its dials and buttons, makes its pilot a sort of chief accountant.” The sturdy Lightning, however, is considered the most successful twin-engine fighter ever flown—by any nation. The first P-38s reached the Pacific Theater on April 4, 1942, joining the 8th Photographic Squadron (based in Australia), and flying combat missions over New Guinea and New Britain later that month. Meanwhile, back in the United States, the Army Air Forces was trying to dispel reports that Lightnings were death traps. “[There’s a] common rumor out there that the whole West Coast was filled with headless bodies of men who jumped out of P-38s and had their heads cut off by the propellers,” Col. Arthur Ennis, chief of public relations, told a fellow officer. (Read more about the P-38's history.) More than 10,000 P-38s were built before production ended in 1945. The P-38J pictured here, Joltin’ Jose, is from the Planes of Fame Museum based in Chino, California.

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