Military History Air Transport
John Plating
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0008


The history of military air transport is largely an overlooked field of academic research. Within the field that is airpower studies, there is no shortage of literature on topics concerning strategic bombing or fighter/pursuit/attack aviation. But air transport is typically considered a subset of the broader study of logistics, and so—lacking the glitz and panache of lethal forms of the air weapon—it is usually reduced to the realm of tons carried, troops delivered, or sorties flown. This said, there is much room for growth in this important field of military history, especially as most of the extant literature on the topic lies in two clumps, during World War II, and during the Vietnam War. This being the case—and because the United States has consistently been the home of the world’s foremost air-transport services—most of the literature on the topic tends to cover American efforts, though occasional exceptions do exist. Also, because military air transport is so closely tied to commercial air transport, it is important to acknowledge the connection, which is something this bibliography strives to accomplish.


Because air transport falls squarely within the realm of military logistics, it is important for researchers to establish a solid conceptual footing in this area before forging ahead. Several helpful works are listed below, but Hugill 1993 stands out among the pack, especially as it has an extended discussion on the impact of aircraft as initiating what the author deems a “transportation revolution.” Additionally, Thompson 1991 gives scant coverage to air transport in his survey, and both Van Creveld 1977 and Lynn 1993 provide solid overviews of the broader topic of logistics and warfare, a foundational point of departure for any discussion that extends to logistics via air transport.

  • Hugill, Peter J. World Trade since 1431: Geography, Technology, and Capitalism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

    NNNWritten by a geographer, this book is a good starting point in forming one’s conceptual framework for the place of air transport in (early-modern to modern) world history. Chapter 7, “Aviation and the First Global System,” is a must-read for historians of military air transport.

  • Lynn, John A. Feeding Mars: Logistics in Western Warfare from the Middle Ages to the Present. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1993.

    NNNA series of scholarly essays on logistics, spanning from the medieval period up through the two-and-a-half-ton trucks driven by the US Army during World War II. No mention of airpower, but it is an important contribution to the literature on logistics.

  • Thompson, Julian. The Lifeblood of War: Logistics in Armed Conflict. London: Brassey’s, 1991.

    NNNA readable survey of the role of logistics throughout history, starting with the campaigns of Alexander and running through NATO operations at the height of the Cold War. Anglo-centric (a full chapter on the Falklands), with the role of airlift discussed in broad strokes in the book’s coverage of modern warfare.

  • Van Creveld, M. Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

    NNNHelpful survey of military history written from the vantage point of logistics; author analyzes in chronological order seven campaigns, concluding that while pre-modern armies were limited by food supplies, modern armies are limited by the supplies demanded by weapons and vehicles. No discussion of air transport, but this is a work that provides a helpful conceptual framework for the general topic of logistics.

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