Today we have our final Big Reveal blog post for our series titles. Commissioning Editor Tony Holmes takes us through all the books publishing next year in the Combat Aircraft series. 

The long-running Combat Aircraft series passes a significant milestone in 2023 when it passes 150 titles. Since May 1997, when the first two books in the series were released, Osprey has covered all manner of military aircraft. The mix of first-hand accounts, concise operational histories, more than 50 photographs and up to ten pages of specially commissioned profile artwork has proven popular with aviation enthusiasts, hobbyists and historians alike over the past 25 years, and the titles for next year are typical Combat Aircraft fare.

Three of the five books focus on aircraft from World War 2. The first of these, Combat Aircraft 148, details the little-known exploits of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force’s Nakajima Ki-49 ‘Helen’ heavy bomber. The Combat Aircraft series is a little ‘light’ on Japanese aircraft, so this publication is a highly anticipated addition to the list. Continuing with the Axis theme, Combat Aircraft 149 chronicles the Jabo (bomber) operations of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 on the Channel Front, while Combat Aircraft 150 also features a fighter type in an unfamiliar role. It examines the important part played by unarmed photo-reconnaissance Spitfires in service with the RAF and the USAAF. Finally, modern air warfare enthusiasts can look forward to Combat Aircraft 147, which charts the exploits of the F-4 Phantom II Wild Weasel in USAF service, and Combat Aircraft 151, examining RAF Harrier GR 7/9 units in combat.

Let us know what you think in the comments!


COM 148: Nakajima Ki-49 ‘Helen’ Units

By George Eleftheriou

Japanese aviation expert George Eleftheriou examines the Nakajima Ki49 ‘Helen’, the Japanese Army Air Force twin-engined bomber which saw extensive but unsuccessful action in the Pacific War.

The Nakajima Ki-49 Donryu (‘Dragon Eater’), codenamed ‘Helen’ by the Allies, was a twin-engined Japanese bomber designed to undertake daylight attacks without the protection of escort fighters. Consequently, while it was officially known as the Army Type 100 Heavy Bomber, its formidable defensive armament and armour were so heavy that they restricted the Ki-49 to payloads comparable to those of smaller medium bombers.

While only five heavy bomber sentai (regiments) were equipped with the ‘Helen’, the over 800 Ki-49s built between 1941 and 1944 saw extensive action in Burma, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, northern India and north Australia.

In an act of desperation, a small number of ‘Helens’ were even employed, unsuccessfully, as kamikaze aircraft against US Navy warships operating off the Philippines and Okinawa.

In this fascinating book, George Eleftheriou provides a comprehensive account of the units that saw action flying the ‘Helen’, based on original Japanese sources. Also featuring high-quality photographs never published before and official unit histories and veteran accounts, this title is a must-have for Japanese aircraft enthusiasts.


COM 147: F-4 Phantom II Wild Weasel Units in Combat

By Peter E. Davies

With first-hand insight into the into the key role of the US Air Force's fighter-bomber from the Vietnam War through to Operation Desert Storm during the First Gulf War, this book is an unmissable account of some of the most dangerous and demanding missions in the two wars.

The advent of the surface-to-air missile (SAM) in the early 1950s threatened the whole concept of aerial bombing from medium and high altitude. Countermeasures were developed during the Korean War, but with little initial success.

It was only in the closing stages of the Vietnam War, with the F-4Cww Phantom II (Wild Weasel 4), that this equipment started to become successful enough to allow a substantial investment in converting 116 F-4E Phantom IIs into dedicated SEAD aircraft. This move introduced a new generation of anti-radar missiles which became invaluable in later operations including operations Desert ShieldDesert Storm and Northern Watch over Iraq. This volume features dynamic archival photography from crews who flew the jet, alongside mission accounts and technical details of the development and fielding of the F-4 Wild Weasel in its various iterations.

Including specially commissioned artwork of ‘sharkmouthed’ Phantom IIs in Vietnam jungle camouflage and more modern USAF ‘Ghost Gray’, this book is the ultimate visual and technical guide to the F-4 Phantom II Wild Weasel Units in combat.


COM 149: Bf 109 Jabo Units in the West

By Malcolm V. Lowe

Using specially commissioned artwork and detailing technical specifications, this book explores the Bf 109's different roles occasioned by wartime necessity, from its employment as a fighter to its evolution as a fighter-bomber.

One of the principal types in the Luftwaffe’s inventory at the beginning of World War II, the piston-engined Bf 109 was central to the many initial victories that the Germans achieved before coming up against the unbeatable RAF during the Battle of Britain. Nevertheless, by the second half of 1940 the Bf 109’s operability was widened due to operational needs and it was flown as a fighter-bomber for precision attacks in Southern England. At first ad hoc conversions were made ‘in the field’ to allow the aircraft to carry a bomb or extra fuel tank. Such modifications were soon formalised by Messerschmitt, which created the Jabo Bf 109s.

Drawing from pilots’ first-hand accounts, author Malcolm V. Lowe explores the number of specialised units, including Lehrgeschwader 2 and dedicated fighter-bomber sections of standard fighter units such as 10. Staffel of Jagdgeschwader 26, which flew this highly specialised fighter-bomber. Including technical specifications, rare photographs and outstanding artwork, this book explores the Jabo versions of the Bf 109E, F and G both on the production line and with the addition of Rüstsätze field conversion kits.


COM 150: Spitfire Photographic Reconnaissance Units of World War 2

By Andrew Fletcher

This book explores the fascinating feats of RAF’s photographic reconnaissance aircraft.

During World War 2, photographic reconnaissance in the RAF started gathering intelligence on the enemy using cameras installed in PR Spitfires. The aircraft that proved this concept was the Supermarine Spitfire, which tripped of all excess weight, and carrying cameras and additional fuel, penetrated deep into enemy territory to bring back photographs that specialist interpreters could scrutinise to determine the enemy’s activities.

This fascinating book examines the evolution of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU), from a small clandestine flight of the British Secret Intelligence Service into an operational group fulfilling the photographic requirements of clients including the RAF and the War Office. From various bases in Britain, the uniquely camouflaged blue (and, occasionally, pink) Spitfires of the PRU covered targets in occupied Europe from the Norwegian fjords to the great German industrial centres. Their superior performance made an immediate impact in North Africa and Malta as the PR Spitfires kept watch on German and Italian forces. Further afield, in India, Spitfires flew over the jungles of Burma monitoring Japanese troops.

Using specially commissioned profiles, first-hand accounts and original photography, aviation expert Andrew Fletcher explores the fundamental role of the iconic PR Spitfire throughout the war and its various theatres.


COM 151: Harrier GR 7/9 Units in Combat

By Michael Napier

Former RAF Tornado pilot Michael Napier chronicles the action-packed history of the Harrier GR 7/9, and its missions in West Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and Afghanistan over a 14-year period of ceaseless operations.

The Harrier GR 7/9 was at the ‘tip of the spear’ for the RAF when it came to employing weapons against well-equipped standing armies and irregular forces in the 1990s and during the first decade of the new millennium. Assigned to the Harrier GR 7/9 Force, the aircraft undertook No Fly Zone patrols over northern Iraq, supported UN forces in the Balkans and embarked in Royal Navy carriers to bolster the RAF presence ashore in the Arabian Gulf. Harrier GR 7s also flew from HMS Illustrious over Sierra Leone in 2000 and was involved in the second Gulf War during early 2003 acting as Close Air Support of Coalition forces.

This fascinating book also covers the numerous upgrades received by the aircraft over the years, from more powerful engines to the creation of the GR 9/9A variants in 2005.Using his extensive Service contacts, supported by both official and personal photographs and 30 profiles illustrating the wide range of colours worn and ordnance employed by the ‘jump jet’, the author provides a rare insider’s look at the deployment of Harrier GR 7/9 up to its withdrawal from RAF service in 2010.