One of the most daring series ever to emerge from Harry Steeger’s Popular Publications was when he converted Battle Birds magazine to Dusty Ayres and His Battle Birds back in 1934. Not content to tell tales of World War I, the new title focused on forecasting the Next War!
As Robert Sidney Bowen, the writer Steeger trusted to fill its monthly pages, recalled:
“Frankly, it was a spur of the moment thing that Harry Steeger and I cooked up one day in 1933 when we were having lunch together. It was this way, as near as I can remember it. At the time I was turning out some one hundred and fifty yarns a year of all types and lengths. War-air stories, gangland stories, mystery stories, sports stories, detective stories, adventure stories, and what have you. And I was sort of tired of banging out one kind of story one day and another kind of the next, etc. Well, at the time one of the mags that Harry was publishing was G-8 and His Battle Aces, and the whole mag was being written once a month by Robert J. Hogan, a very popular writer, and a very swell guy.
“Anyway, I happened to mention to Harry that I’d like to do a whole magazine a month like Bob was doing. And Harry said, ‘Okay, let’s think up something.’ Well, naturally I didn’t want to do a mag that would be in direct competition with Bob’s, so that type was out. Well, Harry and I tossed ideas at each other during the rest of the lunch and came up with the idea of an air-war magazine but about a war in the future. Of course it wouldn’t be wise to write about a war in the future between the U. S. and some other country in the world. So we decided to make the enemy a bunch that rose up out of darkest eastern Asia and started to conquer the world. I took it from there and doped out the series and wrote it. I wrote every darn word in the twelve issues that were published. By the twelfth issue I’d had it up to here with sweet little dusty years, and as it was no big gold mine for Harry we decided to call it a day, and I went back to knocking out a variety of pulp yarns.
“So, that was the way Dusty Ayres was born. And as far as I know it was the only future air-war thing that Popular ever published. And when Harry and I doped it up neither of us had any idea that there would be another world wide war. Way back in those days World War I was still supposed to be the war to end all wars.”
Set in an indeterminate future, the new series was out-and-out-science fiction built around the popular aviation genre. Flying the futuristic Silver Flash aircraft, backed up by wingmen Curly Brooks and Biff Bolton, Captain Dusty Ayres strove every month to beat back the forces of the modern Genghis Khan called Fire-Eyes, who had conquered all but North America.
In this, the first series outing, the assault on America commences. With Europe in the grasping hands of the Black Invaders and the U.S. Naval Fleets split by the destruction of the Panama Canal, the future looks bleak for the nation. But the Black Dart warplanes of the enemy were about to strike a wall of screaming steel––Air Group #7, commanded by Dusty Ayres!
The wonderful thing about Dusty Ayres and his Battle Birds is that when Popular decided to end the series, Bowen penned a concluding chapter, trying up all loose ends, and bringing the glorious conflict to a satisfying conclusion.
So fasten your seat belts! Here starts the wildest ride in pulp aviation history!
Black Lightning is read with dazzling urgency by Alan Taylor. This audiobook also features two additional Robert Sidney Bowen stories of the war against the forces of Fire-Eyes, “The C.O.’s Coffin” and “The Smoke-Screen Ace,” read by Milton Bagby.