As with all things, timing is everything, and the war’s ending happen to coincide with the heyday of the pulps. From the 1920s through the 1930s over two hundred magazines were published monthly for an eager audience of ten million readers. These tabloids were printed on cheap paper and explored every category known to fiction; from westerns to mysteries, pirate tales to romances. All produced to satisfy an insatiable appetite for escapist literature.
Naturally pulp publishers sought to exploit the rising interest in flying. Filmmaker Howard Hughes had wowed moviegoers with the 1927 release of Wings and later the 1930 Hell’s Angels, which employed more than a hundred pilots, dozens of aircrafts and made chivalrous heroes of World War One American air aces. Soon dozens of flying themed magazines were appearing on the newsstands. By the end of 1928 there were over forty monthlies labeled the “flying pulps.” Many of these were anthologies written by World War One veterans and included such titles as, Aces, Battle Birds, Wings, Flying Aces, War Aces etc. etc. As exciting as these were, they were never quite as popular as those titles that spotlighted fictional pilots.
Among the best of these Kerry Keene, the Griffon, a Department of Justice agent and the masked pilot of an amphibian plane which incorporated many futuristic elements for the time. Written by Arch Whitehouse, The Griffon’s exploits read pretty like an airborne masked avenger. While writer Donald Keyhoe whipped up two dashing heroes who took to the air to win the war in Europe. There was Captain Strange, an intelligence officer who possessed ESP and other truly weird mental abilities. Not to be outdone was Richard Knight, another gifted aviator who had the ability to see in the dark.
Author and veteran pilot, Robert J. Hogan gave us G-8, and then there was The Phantom Eagle, Dusty Ayers, and Bucky Barnes. The list goes on and on and over the years, many pulp historians have penned hundreds of essays detailing these great characters, their origins and their revered place in pulp history.
As for my introduction to the flying pulps, well that came by way of a comic book character called Baron Hans von Hammer, the Hammer of Hell. He was a German war ace clearly modeled after the Red Baron and created by writer Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Joe Kubert. His exploits first appeared in 1965 in Our Army at War as a back up featured called Enemy Ace. Like the Red Baron, Von Hammer flew a blood red Fokker Dr.1 triplane and his stories were anti-war fables. In them Von Hammer often referred to what he poetically called “the killer skies.” As much as I enjoyed these stories, it was Kubert’s agonizing beautiful illustrations of those classic planes that won me over. Through them I became fascinated with aviation history, especially that of the World War One period and began reading any and all books I could find on the subject.
When I eventually discovered American pulps, it is easy to see why I became instantly enamored of the flying titles. When artist Rob Davis and I launched Airship 27 Productions, we set about creating our own high-flying series such as Lance Star – Sky Ranger, Zeppelin Tales and the recently released Aviation Aces. Still, as much as those books did well for us, I was not content to merely sit on the sidelines as an editor. The itch to jump into the game and invent my own aviation hero was too strong to deny any longer.
This book is my personal tip of the wings to all those wonderful characters who came before and to hope that in some small way, Nighthawk will take his place among them. Thanks and welcome on board.