- Paperback: 329 pages
- Publisher: Bison Books; New ed edition (1 Oct. 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0803294565
- ISBN-13: 978-0803294561
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,096,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
X-15 Diary: The Story of America's First Space Ship Paperback – 1 Oct 2004
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Built of titanium and a chrome-nickel alloy known as Inconel X, the X-15 was the fastest plane ever built, streaking through the lower reaches of outer space even before the first space capsules reached orbit. First tested in 1959, the X-15 proved to be a crucial testing ground for the astronauts and hardware in the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and even the Space Shuttle programs. The dramatic tale of the golden age of this experimental plane comes vividly to life through the writing of celebrated reporter Richard Tregaskis, who spent time with the pilots, engineers, and other key personnel involved in the project.We learn of the years of planning and design, devastating onboard explosions, exhilarating triumphs, and, above all, the personal and professional sacrifices that paved the way for the enduring legacy of the blisteringly fast X-15 rocket plane. Richard Tregaskis (1916-73) was a noted correspondent and writer who reported on several wars, including the Second World War and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. His books include "Guadalcanal Diary" and "Invasion Diary" which is available in a Bison Books edition.Scott Crossfield is a legendary test pilot who flew the first X-15 flights and was the first man to fly at twice the speed of sound. Crossfield was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame and National Aviation Hall of Fame and is the author of "Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot".
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The author was a journalist assigned to cover the detailed, tedious, gripping, gargantuan project. He describes turning out in 1959 - 1960 for test flights that got off the ground and those that didn't, from California to Cape Canaveral, Florida. He still encountered the barrier of classified information, but otherwise was granted access to walk around the planes, touch the space suits, interview the pilots and engineers and metal fabricators. He got to try out the X-15 flight simulator and make three 'flights' having had limited flying experience.
This book is so crammed with detail (at times reading like a shorthand notebook) that it is ideal for engineers, pilots, designers, those who work with metals, fuels, ballistics, telemetrics or indeed giant organisations. We see part of a 68-page check list in which everything has been reduced to a yes or no answer. We see a plastic bubble filled with argon and used for creating welds on the Inconel X, a high nickel-steel alloy - titanium having proved too hard to work. Where most planes are riveted, missiles are welded for smoother stronger joins; the welds kept developing pressure bubbles under stress so eventually the work had to be sent out to an industrial high-pressure welder. Black paint was used to radiate heat. Most of the plane was actually tanks - of lox, of nitrogen, water alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and helium. On one test, a sealing gasket had absorbed too much liquid oxygen and caused problems with the tank. We see that oddly to us today, radio contact systems were one of the hardest aspects to get right. We also see the various designs for ejector seats, and why some had failed the pilots. This was by no means a safe occupation.
The ballistics are well explained, partially in the pilots' own words. The X-15 was carried up by a giant B-52 bomber, fastened under the left wing. When it was released it took off at an angle which would determine the angle of fall on re-entry making a nice smooth arc. At the top of the arc, there would be no air against which the normal plane controls such as ailerons and wing tilt could function. Chuck Yeager had found this the hard way already at this stage. So rocket jets, small by comparison, were planned for controlling by pushing the plane. But Bob White, pilot on the X-15, did not have this advantage when he made it above 25 miles high to 136,500 ft. His voice contact at the Cape Canaveral tower on his flight was Neil Armstrong. Joseph Walker set a speed record of 2,196 mph in an X-15 shortly beforehand.
Given the level of detail, the surgeons and fire-fighters and project managers all specified and many assorted aspects, I found it amusing that when a small cadre of reporters interviewed White after his flight, the author asked him what time he had gone to bed the previous night and how he intended to celebrate his flight. Perhaps this is what he thought the majority of the readers would want to know. The test pilots were all mid-thirties upwards, married with kids. The Air Force and NASA team would have liked younger pilots but was unable to find men with aerophysics degrees and thousands of hours' flight experience below that age.
Hats off to them and to everyone involved in the dogged work of this project, which made the later moon landings possible. Reading this account, we can see just how much technical knowhow had to be gathered in one place and put to use, whatever the risk and expense. I found the book well worth the read. The black and white photos show the planes, the pilots and the author. Snapshots of history including Neil Armstrong.
I downloaded an ARC from Net Galley. This is an unbiased review.
If you don't know what the X-15 is, don't buy this book. However if you do know, it is well worth the read.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The key thing to know about this book is that it really is a diary. It's the author's diary of his effort to collect the story of the X-15 program. Therefore, one is saddled with details like who he called to arrange transportation to program sites, who he called to arrange interviews with important players in the program, who he called to find out when the next test flight was scheduled. Instead of providing concise summaries of the information gleaned from interviews, his interview descriptions go something like this: "I asked him this .... And then he said that .... And then I said this .... And then he said ...." The reader ends up wading through reams of extraneous text that say nothing about the X-15 program. I couldn't finish it.
One section of the book contained a brief history of rocketry. I enjoyed that. It wasn't written in a diary format.
In my opinion, a much better book about the X-15 program is At The Edge of Space by Milton O. Thompson. Thompson was one of the X-15 pilots, and because he was a member of the test team, he had much better access to the intimate details of the program. The book includes short biographies of each pilot, descriptions of the vehicle, the program phases, test flight results, technical issues discovered, flight logs, and a typical flight plan. And it covers the entire program from beginning to end.
This craft, with its beginnings in 1954, was intended to be a test plane, but then came the dawn of the space age in 1957, with the Soviets sending up the world’s first spacecraft and satellite. In a panic, the U.S. scrambled in an effort not to be left behind during the Cold War, so they deemed the X-15 to become an experiment spacecraft, in addition to the planned project Mercury. In the U.S., there was controversy on what type of spacecraft would be their workhorse for space, the rocket with its space capsule, or a spacecraft resembling a jet.
Only three X-15s were built, by North American. The engines, and there were several types, were build by Reaction Motors. Only two B-52s were used to carry them up to before release.
The competition here is that while a rocket with a space capsule and astronaut would blast off in space and come back down, uncontrolled with only a parachute, the X-15 could be steered and controlled from take-off to landing, at the pilot’s discretion, at all times.
This book is a diary by Richard Tregaskes, a journalist and writer having full access to the testing of the X-15 (X meaning experimental). This diary dates from February 1959, before the first test, to November 1960, in the early successful runs, with many failures in between these runs. The X-15 continues to be tested until 1968, to the flight of Apollo 7.
What should be noted is that this diary tells of the history of rocketry, from 16th century China to the early pioneers like Robert Goddard, Konstantin Tsiokovsky, and Werner Von Braun. It tells of how the U.S. acquired rocket technology from these pioneers, including the seizing of German rockets and scientists during the war, testing in White Sands, New Mexico, and includes the first plane to break the sound barrier, the X-1, piloted by Chuck Yeager, continuing on to the development of America’s first rockets and the establishment of Cape Canaveral.
It also tells of test pilots of other planes, and how many of these pilots were killed, being part of the process of testing these advanced aircraft.
This diary mostly covers each individual test of the X-15 air/spacecraft and with trials it has endured.
The three main pilots mentioned here are Scott Crossfield, who tested the majority of the flights logged here, along with Bob White and Joe Walker. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, was also a test pilot, but not in these early flights.
The X-15 was shaped like a cigar, with stubbed wings, and small enough to fit under the wing of a B-52. The B-52 would take the X-15 to heights up to 45,000 feet or more, release the plane, where it would ignite its jets and soar to the edge of space. In order to protect the pilot, the X-15 was escorted by chase planes, being F-100s, F-104s, choppers, and a C-130 weather ship.
The X-15 was painted black, hence the name Blackbird, and carried only one pilot. It was tested at Edwards Air Force Base in California, by the Air Force. If successful, it would be turned over to NASA for use.
Most of the plane, a good two-thirds, carried fuel. The fuel was: 1,200 gallons of anhydrous ammonia (water alcohol), 1000 gallons of liquid oxygen, with smaller tanks of hydrogen peroxide, liquid helium, and liquid nitrogen. The water alcohol and liquid oxygen mix forming a controlled explosion powering the plane, and the other fuels keep the liquid oxygen cold at sub-zero temperatures, and prevents overheating of the engines.
The metal has to be heat resistant at high speeds against the friction of the atmosphere. Hoses, pressure valves, bolts, all must be tight with no leaks, the engines cannot overheat, and oxygen must be supplied to the pilot to breathe, the cabin must be pressurized, and meters must have perfect readings. One little glitch can range from failure of the plane to function correctly to the plane exploding and killing the pilot. This factors determined the tests.
For the first year and a half, each test was recorded in this diary with all the details. At first, there were failures like smoke in the cockpit before the plane was released. For the first three tests, the X-15 flew captive, meaning it was not released from the B-52. From the fourth test on, the plane at first flew at low speeds and altitude to check for flaws, and there were many: leaks in the hose to inaccurate meters, leading the plane to abort the test.
There were successes, from flying to 70,000 feet at Mach 2 to flying up to 136,600 feet at Mach 3.3. Two successful flight tests, however, were rare, if they occurred. This is due to constant breakdowns in the entire system of the plane.
A successor, the Dyna-Soar, was planned to fly into Earth orbit, but because of the technical difficulties in the X-15 tests, the Dyna-Soar was never built.
Although the diary ends in November, 1960, the X-17 continued testing until 1968, when the project was discontinued, due to numerous technical problems.
Some footnotes here. In August, 1963, Joe Walker flew up to 100 kilometers (62 miles), up to the edge of space and officially became an astronaut.
Tragically, on November 15, 1967, Michael Adain was killed when an airframe during his flight collapsed.
Many space advocated have lamented the cancellation of the X-15 project, believing that it would have been a better alternative to space than the rocket, and had these flights continued, we would be more advanced in space than we are today.
This diary reveals the truth. The attempt was made, but back then, we lacked the technology to accomplish this, so we had no choice but to rely on the rocket, meaning Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. The space shuttle was an attempt to advance to the space plane, but that too was a failure, due to the fact that it took six months to refurbish it between each flight, costing literally billions of dollars.
The X-15 did lead to later advanced in aerospace technology, creating more advanced heat resistance materials and better engines, with supersonic aircraft today that are more advanced than the X-15 ever was.
Today, private companies are making new strides in hypersonic air/space craft.
This is simple trial and error, and try again.