Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Conquering Air and Space


Experimental Aircraft Association
The Airbus A-300 was the world's first twin-engine widebody airplane. It made its first flight in 1972.
The Airbus A-300 was the world's first twin-engine widebody airplane. It made its first flight in 1972.
Peter M. Bowers Collection

The taking of hostages by terrorists took on a more international flavor on July 3-4, 1976, when 100 crew and passengers aboard an Air France Airbus A300B were hijacked and, with President Idi Amin's permission, were brought to the airport at Entebbe, Uganda, by their Palestinian and East German captors. An Israeli commando unit stormed the airport and rescued the hostages, setting a precedent for the war against terrorism.

­

A sad mission for helicopters occurred in Vietnam in 1975. The North Vietnamese violated the 1973 peace treaty and invaded South Vietnam, reaching the capital, Saigon, in late April 1975. On April 30, U.S. helicopters evacuated staff members and refugees from the roof of the embassy and adjacent buildings, ending all U.S. presence in Vietnam.

There were other wars, of course, the most significant being the eight-year struggle between Iraq and Iran in which ballistic missiles and chemical weapons were used with abandon. In the South Atlantic, Argentina attempted to take back what it calls the Malvinas from Great Britain. A short intense war followed that resulted in a British victory but at considerable cost. The territory remained the Falkland Islands and was not recovered by Argentina. In the same decade, the Soviet Union became involved in a war in Afghanistan, which would have uncanny parallels to the planning, execution, and outcome of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Politically, the Cold War seemed to be less dangerous. It was true that both the United States and the Soviet Union each had aircraft, ICBMs, and Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) aimed at each other, but the rhetoric became a little less violent. One reason was the comprehensive information that each side was gaining from the other by means of satellite intelligence systems. Satellites were in the process of changing everything, including navigation, communication, meteorology, and intelligence, and the rockets that were brought into being to deliver nuclear warheads were now pumping satellites into the sky with increasing regularity.

A new, more efficient Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) emerged with the arrival of the Boeing E-3A Sentry. The AWACS became a force multiplier, able to identify enemy airborne targets and direct friendly assets to them. With satellites and AWACS, the possibility of a surprise attack was reduced, and both the United States and the Soviet Union became more comfortable with each other.

­