With the Soviet Union's launch of the first Sputnik satellite in 1957, the Cold War soared to new heights as Americans feared losing the race into space. The X-15 Rocket Plane tells the enthralling yet little-known story of the hypersonic X-15, the winged rocket ship that met this challenge and opened the way into human-controlled spaceflight.
Drawing on interviews with those who were there, Michelle Evans captures the drama and excitement of, yes, rocket science: how to handle the heat generated at speeds up to Mach 7, how to make a rocket propulsion system that could throttle, and how to safely reenter the atmosphere from space and make a precision landing.
This book puts a human face on the feats of science and engineering that went into the X-15 program, many of them critical to the development of the Space Shuttle. And, finally, it introduces us to the largely unsung pilots of the X-15. By the time of the Apollo 11 moon landing, 31 American astronauts had flown into space - eight of them astronaut-pilots of the X-15. The X-15 Rocket Plane restores these pioneers, and the others who made it happen, to their rightful place in the history of spaceflight.
"The X-15 Rocket Plane is an engaging account of America's push into space before pilots became astronauts, and America began a new era of exploration beyond the Earth to the Moon." (Space Review)
“In this gripping book, Michelle Evans brings to life the X-15 and the aerospace pioneers who made it a success. For those already aware of the program, this will bring back fond memories and renew an appreciation for the remarkable people who conceived, operated, and supported this incredible craft. For those who aren't, prepare for an incredible journey of discovery.” (Richard P. Hallion, former historian of the USAF)
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A Facinating Topic But Mediocre Presentation
First, let's address the material. If you are expecting a chronological history of the design, development, testing, and implementation of the X-15 planes & program you'll be disappointed. I was. Missing here is virtually anything on where the idea came from, how the planes came to be on the drawing board, details of constructing the three aircraft and of the various rocket motors used. This would have been fascinating material to have included in the book. When you think about it, with 199 flights, each lasting only about 10-15 minutes each, that's only roughly about 40 total hours of flight time for all three planes combined.
Don't get me wrong, the flights themselves are fascinating and a crucial part on any look at the X-15 program. It just seemed like there was too much other "filler" that could have been spent on the actual engineering, construction, and modification of the planes. But, perhaps understandably, the author's focus was more on the human interest side of the program.
What you do have is an overview of the careers of the X-15 pilots and the test flights each of them made. That's fine, but still, not in chronological order. What the author does is take each pilot one-by-one, starting from the first to the last, and lays out their careers and details many of the test flights that they participated in. Since each chapter focuses on one pilot alone the narrative often overlaps with material in other chapters. Naturally, this approach also means that there is quite a bit of leaping back and forth from one time frame to another as a new chapter begins. This took a while to get use to and was very confusing at first because I was frequently getting lost in what year we were in while listening. Also, this style, in a way, spoils some of the potential drama later in the book, and one event in particular near the end could have been more dramatic except for it being completely spoiled by a reference to it earlier in the book.
Now to the narration. Yes, as others have observed, this was not the best choice in narrator. The voice was so monotone, droning, and slow (I mean SLOW!) that I had to increase the play speed to 1.5X just to make the listening experience more interesting and lively. That actually made the the material quite listenable.
Just before the book was finished yesterday I adjusted the speed back to 1X just to see if I was exaggerating. No! I couldn't believe how plodding the reading was and how accustomed to 1.5X I had become. I would never have made it to the finish at normal speed. It really made it hard to concentrate and I was missing key dates, names, and locations because the reading was sleep inducing. Running it at 1.5X was much better.
All of this might seem like a negative review, but that's not entirely the case. Overall, I did come around to enjoying the book. But the material and presentation could have been much better except for the aspects I mention above.
Great detailed history of the X-15
- JOHN E REDEL JR