Aviation Records in the Jet Age

Published: April 23rd, 2017     
Product Image
Front Cover
Author: William A. Flanagan, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret)
Reviewed by: Frank Landrus - IPMS# 35035
Company: Specialty Press
ISBN #: 978-1-58007-230-4
Other Publication Information: Hard Bound, 10” x 10”, 192 pages
Price: $39.95
Product / Stock #: SP230
Product provided by: Specialty Press

Lt. Col. William A. Flanagan, aka Bill "Flaps" Flanagan, was an SR-71 RSO for five years, flying out of Palmdale. Bill was inspired to join the US Air Force due to a Northrop YB-49 trading card. Later on in his career, he became the 14th pilot to fly the Northrop B-2. He flew combat McDonnell F-4 Phantom IIs in Vietnam followed by an assignment in Europe under NATO. Next up for Bill was his experience as a test pilot for Lockheed where he was part of a task force for upgrades to the SR-71 Blackbird. Now he is a docent at Blackbird Airpark, in Palmdale, California, currently home to not only a SR-71A, a D-21B, a unique Lockheed U-2D, but a Lockheed A-12 Blackbird. Bill has been done a multitude of videos, including:

William Flanagan also has a DVD available on amazon.com that is billed as a collection of home movies on the SR-71 (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00SG92BZ4 ). You can find William on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/william.a.flanagan .

This hard back book's cover (and dust jacket) features the North American XB-70 Valkyrie in 1965. The back cover depicts the Douglas X-3 Stiletto and the North American X-15. The first thing you will notice upon opening the book are the clear, well reproduced black and white pictures and the vivid color photographs gracing nearly every glossy page. I counted 219 black and white photographs, 53 color pictures, and 26 drawings.

William Flanagan provides an overall timeline of aviation history told through the technological advancements and the record breaking flights they facilitated. William covers each major era in chapter format (as can be seen below) starting off with the first flight to the current day. The specific advances in aerodynamics, power-plants, life support systems, flight control systems, and instrumentation are all covered. The Appendices cover the major record breaking achievements, organized both by date achieved; and by speed and altitude records. Although the vast amount of material is focused on the United States, there are key components that bring in the British and the Russians to the table.

The Chapters include:

  • Preface
  • Introduction
    • The Importance of Record Flights to Aviation Development
    • FAI: The Keeper of Aviation Records
  • Chapter 1: Aviation Records through World War I
    • Development of the Heavier-Than-Air Flying Machine
    • The Wright Brothers Take Europe by Storm
    • Basic Aerodynamics: Lift and Drag
    • The Airplane Arrives on the International Scene; Records are Set
    • The Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss [Page 14]
    • The Great War Looms and Military Aviation Takes Center Stage
  • Chapter 2: The Golden Age of Progress (1919-1939)
    • The Racers: Speed Records Resume after the War
    • Races, Race Courses and the Schneider Cup
    • Streamlining and the Quest for Speed and Range
    • Schneider Cup Races and the Quest for Higher Speeds
    • Altitude and Human Physiology
    • Pressurized Aircraft, Pressurized Suits [Page 28]
    • Climb to Altitude Records and the Supercharger
    • The Breguet Range Equation and Long Distance Flights
    • Pioneering Record Flights and the Traveling Public
  • Chapter 3: Dawn of the Jet Age (1940-1945)
    • Flying High Speed Airplanes with No Propellers
    • Ernst Heinkel and the Race for the World Speed Record
    • Jet Fighter Competition: Heinkel versus Messerschmitt
    • Operating Principles of Turbojet and Rocket Engines
    • The (British) Empire Strikes Back with a Meteor [Page 41]
    • Americans Enter the Jet Engine Game Thanks to Their British Cousins
    • From Testbed to Weapon: Luftwaffe Jets Become a Last Ditch Defense
    • Kelly Johnson and the Skunk Works: Lockheed Develops a True Jet Fighter
  • Chapter 4: Breaking the Sound Barrier (1946-1956)
    • The Quest for World Speed Records in the Jet Age
    • Approaching the Sound Barrier
    • High Speed Flight Test Research
    • The Speed of Sound in the Atmosphere
    • Compressibility, Shockwaves and Supersonic Flow
    • The Swept Wing and Transonic Flight
    • Wing Research and Design in the Transonic Era
    • Piloted Transonic Research Aircraft: The Early Days
    • Navy and NACA Cooperation Conquers Mach 2
    • Stilettos, Bantams, and Variable Sweep Wings
    • The Tailless Jet
    • Swinging on a Spar
    • Increasing Jet Engine Thrust from Font and Back
    • The World's First Jet Airliner Arrives
    • Official Swept Wing Speed Records (1948 - 1956) [Page 87]
    • Control and Stability of Fixed Wing Airplanes
    • Escape Systems for High Speed Aircraft
  • Chapter 5: Jet Airliners and Mach 2 Fighters (1954-1962)
    • The Jet Absolute Speed Record Exceeds 1,000 mph
    • Boosted Flight Control Systems
    • The Jet Bomber Arrives
    • Aerial Refueling Becomes Routine for Military Aircraft
    • Transcontinental Supersonic Speed Records
    • Commercial Jet Travel Replaces Propellers and Ocean Liners
    • Commercial Jet Airliners: Russians Race to Be First [Page 106]
    • Jet Airliners Arrive in America
    • Turbofan: More Thrust and Less Noise = More Fuel Efficiency
    • Mach 2 in the Cold War: A Tale of Two Fighters
    • Area Rule, Supercritical Wings and Winglets
  • Chapter 6: Mach 3 and Beyond: Supersonic Cruise (1962-1976)
    • Jet Age Meets Space Age: Breading the Thermal Thicket
    • Beating the Heat: Hot Structure and Heatsink versus Ablation [Page 128]
    • Run for the Roses: Turning the X-15 into the X-15A-2 [Page 138]
    • Supersonic Cruise Becomes Reality: Hustling at Mach 2
    • The Black World of High-Altitude Reconnaissance
    • Cruising at Mach 3: The XB-70 and Blackbird
    • USA versus USSR: Speed and Altitude Records in the Cold War
    • Saving the Crew at High Speed and High Altitude
    • The SST: Supersonic Dreams versus Subsonic Reality
  • Chapter 7: The Digital Age: Efficiency Trumps Speed and Altitude (1976-1996)
    • From "Electronic Brain" to Super-Computer [Page 158]
    • Analog versus Digital Computers
    • World's Fastest Airplane Goes Digital: Sr-71 Conversion in the 1980s
    • Fly-By-Wire: All Things Are Now Possible
    • Commercial Aviation in the Digital Age: Upgraded Avionics and Smaller Flight Crews
  • Chapter 8: Where Have All the Records Gone?
    • The Last Hurrahs: Records as the Cold War Ends
    • Aviation Records in the 21st Century
    • Civilian Record Setters in the 20th Century [Page 181]
    • Who Needs Pilots Actually Onboard the Aircraft?
  • Glossary
  • Appendix One: Speed Records
    Appendix Two: Altitude Records
  • Index

I found two sections quite interesting. The first is the section on the Russians race to be first in commercial jet airliners. While the US and British were working on commercial jet airliners from the ground up, the Russians simply converted their bombers to commercial aviation and surprised the world. The Tupolev Tu-16 bomber was converted to the Tu-104 commercial jetliner and established a world speed record in 1957. The Tupolev Tu-95 turboprop bomber was converted to the Tu-114 turboprop commercial airliner, shocking the world by delivering a Soviet delegation to New York City in 1958 on a nonstop flight. William is able to share some of his personal experiences in both aircraft when he vacationed in the USSR in 1972.

The second section was bringing the Lockheed SR-71 into the digital age in the 1980s. Originally designed in 1959, it is truly amazing what the Skunk Works accomplished in the age prior to digital computers. A NASA SR-71 used as a testbed showed the way with upgrades in the late 1970s to computer technology. This spurred a fleet upgrade of the Blackbird to their flight control system. The new system, DAFICS, essentially eliminated the Blackbird's unstart issues.

I really appreciated William A. Flanagan's book and his ability to weave in aviation technological developments into the record breaking achievements. What really makes this book a good, easy read is the detail that he is able to provide both from a technical standpoint and the clarity that he presents this information so that it is easy to comprehend. As a bonus, the well captioned photographs and technical drawings all complement the text.

I would also note that there is a special offer available: the first 100 books ordered will be autographed by William A. Flanagan.

My thanks to Specialty Press and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended!

  • Back Cover
    Back Cover
  • Page 14
    Page 14
  • Page 28
    Page 28
  • Page 41
    Page 41
  • Page 87
    Page 87
  • Page 106
    Page 106
  • Page 128
    Page 128
  • Page 138
    Page 138
  • Page 158
    Page 158
  • Page 181
    Page 181

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