Curtis Peebles' PROBING THE SKY
Book review by Dennis D. McDonald
When I was a little kid the airplanes described in this NASA e-book were like something from the future. Just a picture of the sleek X-3 “Stiletto,” even while sitting on the ground, was enough to cause me to conjure images of speed and spaceflight at a time when it seemed like the whole world was eager to follow Sputnik into orbit.
The reality of these aircraft was more prosaic than imagined in my childhood fantasies. The D558–1 “Skystreak” was a lumbering subsonic throwback to pre-World War II designs. The D588–2 “Skyrocket” was frequently unstable as pilots pushed the envelope of controllability around Mach 1. The X-3 itself — that fantastic futuristic rocket-looking plane — was woefully underpowered, victim of the then common curse of the disparity between powerplant development and aerodynamic advances.
This book does a great job of reminding us about the research nature of these early experimental aircraft. They were designed for data gathering at a time when physical testing at high speeds and high altitudes was the only way to test reality. Wind tunnels were limited in their ability to manage transonic airflows. Today’s high-speed computers didn’t exist to support complex modeling.
Someone had to fly these things. Industry and armed services test pilots did the honors.
This book is pretty dry reading. There’s very little in the way of human interest or personal relationships on display here. That’s okay since, if you read between the lines, you can pretty much imagine the real world of terror and sweat Bridgeman, Crossfield, and the others had to deal with on a regular basis in order to “bring home the data” on the primitive data recorders of the day.
But they did. We have today’s aerospace accomplishments as a result.
- William Wellman’s ISLAND IN THE SKY and THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY
- Richard H. Graham’s FLYING THE SR-71 BLACKBIRD; in the cockpit on a secret operational mission
- Dennis R. Jenkins’ X-15: EXTENDING THE FRONTIERS OF FLIGHT
- Donald Mallick’s THE SMELL OF KEROSENE; A TEST PILOT’S ODYSSEY (with Peter Merlin)
- Hayao Miyazaki’s NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WINDS
- Nigel Walpole’s VOODOO WARRIORS: THE STORY OF THE MCDONNELL VOODOO FAST-JETS
- Hayao Miyazaki’s PORCO ROSSO
- Hugh Harkins’ USAF JET POWERED FIGHTERS XP 59 – XF 85
- Comparing Eras of Innovation: 1950’s Aerospace Advances and Today’s Web 2.0
Review copyright (c) 2015 by Dennis D. McDonald