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The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters

21 March 2016

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

The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters: USAF Jet-Powered Experimental Aircraft and Their Propulsive Systems by Steve Pace—Zenith Press image

The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters: USAF Jet-Powered Experimental Aircraft and Their Propulsive Systems by Steve Pace—Zenith Press image

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. 

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 March 2016 03:38

    The N-102 was a neat looking little jet fighter

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      21 March 2016 22:58

      Yes, I agree 🙂

  2. Dave permalink
    23 May 2016 10:55

    Sadly, Steve Pace passed away last Wednesday (May 18) in his sleep. His writing about aviation and aircraft inspired and directed the interests of so many, myself included.

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      23 May 2016 16:41

      Thank you so much for delivering the sad news. I’ll draft a post about the news as well as about Dave. I also sent the news along to a publisher of much of his work.

  3. Lurch permalink
    1 August 2016 14:47

    On the strength of this review, I picked up a copy of this book a month ago when I went back to the Air Force Museum to eyeball their new 4th building. This is a really good book. An occasional editing mistake is more than made up for with great writing, information, and illustrations.

    Two years ago, I was able to go on the behind-the-scenes tour of the restoration shop at the museum. I spotted what I suspected to be the XB-42 and XB-43 sitting in large group of “stuff” inside one of the hangers. One of them had a wooden nose instead of the transparent one. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of my tour guide’s favorite planes or subjects, so they didn’t know much about the planes or why one had a wooden nose.

    Pg. 69 of Mr. Pace’s book fills in the answer – the first XB-43’s original transparent nose was damaged in a flight way back when. Since there were no replacements available, a wooden one was created to allow continued flights. Little tidbits like this are what shows me an author loves his subject and puts in the hard work, not just rephrasing what others have been rephrasing for decades.

    As I came here to leave this comment, I see Mr. Pace has passed away. This is my first book of his and has given me many hours of enjoyment. I can only belatedly thank him for that.

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      2 August 2016 22:01

      Yes indeed. Steve Pace left a huge legacy and I hope his research library is taken by a suitable organization as it must be immense. He wrote of details which gave his readers deep insight and absolute knowledge.

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