X-15: The World's Fastest Rocket Plane and the Pilots Who Ushered in the Space Age. By John Anderson and Richard Passman. Minneapolis, Minn.: Zenith Press, 2014. Photographs. Pp. 144. $30.00 ISBN: 978-0-7603-4445-3
A family with a ten-year-old son moved to suburban Washington D.C. in August 1969. In California, the son and his best friend argued about how the X-15 should be drawn. On their first visit to the National Air and Space Museum (NASM), the boy was unimpressed with the Wright's airplane or the Spirit of St Louis, for around a corner sat the X-15. The ten-year-old's life was suddenly complete! I was that ten year old. Little did I know that just eleven years later I'd begin talking about the airplane "professionally" as a docent. I wish I had a book like this those many years ago!
This is a perfect introduction for someone new to the X-15. The first quarter of the book begins in 1944, when the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), U.S. Army, and U.S. Navy participated in a study that led several years later to the Bell X-1, the first airplane to exceed the speed of sound (Mach 1) in level flight. With the success of the X-1, two more aircraft followed: the X-1A (Mach 2.5+) and the X-2 (Mach 3.2+).
After the success of these two aircraft, the NACA wanted to study hypersonic speeds (Mach 5+). In 1954, the NACA sent a request for proposal to a dozen aircraft manufactures for an aircraft to study hypersonic fight and achieve a fifty-mile altitude. Four companies responded; North American Aviation won the contract in 1956.
The remainder of the book follows a standard format (other X-15 histories do the same). First described is the X-15's structure, systems, and engine. Next chronicled is the X-15's home, Edwards AFB, California; the emergency landing spots along the flight path from Death Valley to Edwards; the B-52 mother-ship; and the chase planes. Readers are then introduced to the personnel at NASA's Flight Research Center and the twelve men (one would walk on the Moon) who flew the X-15. Following...