Testbeds, Motherships & Parasites: Astonishing Aircraft From the Golden Age of Flight Test.

Author:Willey, Scott A.
Position:Book review

Testbeds, Motherships & Parasites: Astonishing Aircraft From the Golden Age of Flight Test. By Frederick A. Johnsen. Forest Lake MN: Specialty Press, 2018. Tables. Diagrams. Photographs. Notes. Appendices. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 203. $32.95 paperback ISBN: 978-1-58007-241-0

Frederick Johnsen served for many years in the public relations, historian, and museum director roles at both the Air Force Flight Test and Dryden Flight Research Centers. As such, he is highly qualified to write a book on this subject and of this scale.

First off, what are we talking about here? Simply, testbeds are aircraft used to test components such as engines in an actual flying environment. Motherships carry other aircraft aloft to facilitate test time, range, and the like. Parasites marry a couple of aircraft to enhance operational missions.

Johnsen has divided the story into 12 chapters, 11 of which cover time periods or types of craft. In the first, "Old School," the earliest mothership is introduced--John J. Montgomery's use of a balloon to carry his gliders to higher altitudes for extended glides. "Parasites with a Purpose" covers the USN dirigibles that carried parasite fighters, the piggyback German Mistel (manned fighter that released a modified unmanned bomber) program, and the Japanese Okha Kamikaze weapons carried underneath a bomber. Also there are the postwar XF-85 parasite fighter and the range-extending projects where a fighter and bomber joined wings in flight--the TIP-TOW and TOM-TOM projects.

"Bomber Bonus Testbeds" highlights the tremendously successful use of surplus B-17, -24, -26, -29, -45, -50, and -52s to test new turboprop and turbojet engines. "Transport Testbeds" shows the use of 747s, C-119s, C-141s and others to test engines and radars in realistic environments. Arguably the most famous uses of motherships were the "Post-War Motherships" that carried the X-planes and others aloft. Chuck Yeager's ride in the X-1 started in a B-29. The Magnificent X-15 was launched...

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