The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters
The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters: USAF Jet-Powered Experimental Aircraft and Their Propulsive Systems, Steve Pace, 2016, ISBN 9780760349502, 360 pp., 150 color & 150 b/w images
To learn of the previous 70 years of turbojet powered fighters and bombers in the USAF is to enjoy this book. Beginning with the biography of the famed Bell P-59 Airacomet, May 1941, through the selection of the successor to the B-2 Spirit, October 2015, Pace’s prose is conversational and succinct making for the rapid sense of aviation evolution as it must have felt at the time. Every sentence is filled with facts—no fluffing about—as he covers the vast array of X-aircraft in this beautifully crafted book. Pages are watermarked with engineering drawings, photos are spot quality (many rare or rare color images), insets provide interesting historical asides without interfering with the rhythm of the writing, and the three-view artwork by G. De Chiara reinforces the sense of the book as a go-to work for this portion of aviation’s history. It is handsome and small coffee-table in size.
Pace, an aviation history expert, greatly helps the readers in comprehending the overall history by naming names. Designers, pilots, decision makers—all are revealed to show this is a human story as well as a technical one. The chapter on turbojet engines is worth its own study as aircraft could not have preformed how they did, whether poorly or energetically, without their own fascinating history of evolution. Wartime pressures, design challenges (first the sound barrier then the heat barrier), funding and Congressional issues are all mentioned—again giving the context that was back in the day. Pace simply does not recite facts and statistics, instead he gives the reader thorough knowledge and comprehensive understanding.
The book more than delivers in its promise describing the fighters as well as the bombers in the USAF’s X-plane programs. The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters is also a trove if lesser known though highly intriguing nuggets of information such as these examples:
- The B-58B Super Hustler
- Boeing’s XB-59–which looks much like a non flying boat version of Martin’s Seamaster
- Northrop’s Fang N-102—designed by those who conjured the Mustang
- Northrop’s unsuccessful XF-108 Rapier project becoming the successful A-5 Vigilante program
- The Northrop N-176 design with its 8 engines stacked 4 atop 4
- The B-1R which would have become “The Boner”
The timeline in the last few pages is pure gold, listing the major events in the period. Pace does not fail to carry through with deeper awareness as he adds to the main story with aircraft that might have been—or were but not officially released to the public. His writing is lively with creative phrases as well as word choices. Phrases such as “crashed to destruction” and word selection such as “cerulean” liven the script making this history’s description as dynamic as it was. Where else, but in the film The Devil Wears Prada does one see cerulean used perfectly?
The book is fully sourced and is useful as a research reference. It is comfortable at home in the personal library, desk of coffee table where it can be randomly opened to any page for enjoyment. But read it cover to cover to understand the history Pace has so elegantly placed before the reader—the history of jet aviation.
Steve Pace lives in Tacoma WA and The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters is his 31st book—we dearly hope there is more to come from him!
Zenith Press, following the publishing industry practice, provided a copy of The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters: USAF Jet-Powered Experimental Aircraft and Their Propulsive Systems, for an objective review.