Michael W. Hankins

Michael W. Hankins

Dr. Michael W. Hankins is the Curator for US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps post-World War II Aviation at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. 

Mike is the author of Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F-16, and the Weaponization of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia, from Cornell University Press, available now in print and audiobook!

“In this lively, absorbing account, Hankins demonstrates the influence of a specific culture that celebrated the fighter pilot as a “knight of the air” who thrilled to aerial combat.”

-Lawrence Freedman, Foreign Affairs

“Forget ‘The Right Stuff,’ this is the Real Stuff. Equal parts cultural, technological, societal, and military history, Flying Camelot is a brilliant and illuminating account of fighter pilot culture and the development of governmental weapons systems.”

-Brian Laslie, NORAD and USNORTHCOM,
author of Air Power’s Lost Cause

“[Dr. Hankins] writes in an engaging and accessible way that makes some occasionally highly-technical discussions quite lucid and illuminating.”

-Sir Richard Williams Foundation


  • New Podcast: Commanding Strategic Bombing in WW2

    Don’t miss the latest episode of the From Balloons to Drones podcast! We’re joined by Dr. Luke Truxal to talk about bombing in WW2 — specifically, who was in command, and how did the relationships between different commanders affect the campaigns? This is a great episode you won’t want to miss!

    You can listen on Spotify here; or on Sound Cloud here.

    Truxal is the author of Uniting Against the Reich: The American Air War in Europe, from University Press of Kentucky.

  • The First American Women to Fly Combat Missions

    I’m very excited about a new article I wrote that was just published in the new issue of Air and Space Quarterly, the member magazine of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

    It reveals the names of the first American women to officially fly combat missions. U.S. Navy Lieutenant Kimberly “Face” Dyson was the first, on November 15, 1994, flying an F/A-18 Hornet as part of Operation: Southern Watch. Several other women joined her in the weeks that followed. Four of these women (two other F/A-18 pilots, and one E-2 Hawkeye pilot) sat down with me a while back for an interview, resulting in this new article about their experiences.

    What’s especially cool about this, is that their names were not well known before this. It had been lightly reported at the time that women had flown combat missions that November, but most of their names were unknown. These women (Dyson, as well as Joy Dean, Sharon Deegan, and Lisa Kirkpatrick) are important figures in women’s history, aviation history, military history, and American history in general.

    You can read their stories in the current (Winter 2024) issue of Air and Space Quarterly, or check it out online here.

  • New Podcast: Women in Military Aviation with Eileen Bjorkman

    The new ‘From Balloons to Drones’ podcast is out! Eileen Bjorkman (Col., USAF, ret.) joins us to talk about the history of women in military aviation. She takes us from the women flying in World War II, and through the long road to get to women in combat aviation in the 1990s and beyond.

    She is a former flight test engineer who has flown in aircraft like the F-4 Phantom and the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and she is author of: Fly Girls Revolt: The Story of the Women who Kicked Open the Door to Fly in Combat, from Knox Press.

    Listen on Soundcloud here, or on Spotify here.

  • Dec. 2, Celebrate at the Udvar-Hazy Center

    This Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, the National Air and Space Museum is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Udvar-Hazy Center! Come out and enjoy a ton of cool events, including a behind-the-scenes, up-close look at our restoration hangar, curator talks and Q&A’s, and tons of other fun events.

    I’ll be there! At 12-noon I’ll be giving a talk about our Blue Angels F/A-18C Hornet and answering your questions about the airplane — then, until 2:00pm I’ll be signing copies of Flying Camelot. Several other curators will be talking about our artifacts and signing their books as well. Come out and say hi and hang out with us!

    You can find out more details about the event here.

  • New Article: The Cuban Missile Crisis

    A few weeks ago was the 61st anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis — often considered the time where we got closest to a nuclear war (although that is debated). I’ve written a new article summarizing the Cuban Missile Crisis over at the National Air and Space Museum’s website, check it out here.

    It was very cool to get to write this for the museum, and got me thinking a lot about how military aviation has had (and continues to have) such a dramatic effect in shaping the world we all find ourselves in. The museum also has a lot of interesting artifacts related to the Crisis in its collection, some of which you can see on display (and some that are planned to be put on display soon).

    (From left to right) Photo evaluator Col. Ralph Steakley, U-2 pilot Lt. Col. Joe O’Grady, U-2 pilot Maj. Richard Heyser, and CSAF Gen. Curtis LeMay meet with President Kennedy in October 1962.