War Birds describes the experience of Springs, Grider and Callahan as they trained in England, experiencing the thrill of flight but also seeing many of their fellow trainees killed in air crashes.   The danger of flying in primitive machines and the high mortality rate spurred on the revels of the Three Musketeers, living as if there were no tomorrow.


The  Royal Air Force (RAF), which the Three Musketeers joined in the spring of 1918, was led by General Hugh Trenchard, whose aggressive philosophy was similar to that of his commander Douglas Haig, who'd been criticized for the number of casualties.  Billy Bishop, commander of 85 Squadron, also believed in agressive action and encouraged one and two man patrols to hunt down the enemy. His tactics influenced Springs and Grider to embark on their fateful two man patrol in which Grider was killed.


As the war progressed, all sides invested heavily in new plane designs to stay ahead of the enemy. The Germans consistently outpaced England and France. Its Fokker triplane could easily outmaneuver most other craft and the D-7, developed later in the war, far outclassed its rivals in speed and diving ability.


The need to put new planes immediately into action meant many of the planes had not been fully tested. Others, like the Sopwith Camel flown late in the war by Elliott Springs and Larry Callahan, were notoriously hard to fly. Its rotary engine and the concentration of weight in its front section (which gave it a "camel's" hump) made it incredibly maneuverable in combat but hard to take off and land. Pilots fought constantly against the torque of the rotary engine while burnt castor oil -- used for engine lubrication -- spewed back in their faces.


Overriding all was the fragility of the airplanes themeselves, the frigid open cockpit at high altitudes, and the lack of a parachute. A pilot's worst nightmare was his plane catching fire in the air. If that happened there were no good choices-- they all meant certain death.