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

Published: February 18th, 2018     
Product Image
Front cover
Author: Frederick A. Johnsen
Reviewed by: 
Frank Landrus, IPMS# 35035
Company: Specialty Press
ISBN #: 978-1-58007-241-0
E-Book ISBN #: 1580072410
Other Publication Information: Soft Cover, Square-Bound; 9” x 9”, 204 pages
Price: $32.95
Product / Stock #: SP241S

Frederick A. Johnsen recently retired from a lengthy career at the U.S. Air Force Flight Test Center and NASA's famed Dryden Flight Research Center, both located on the historic desert site known as Edwards Air Force Base. During his time there, Johnsen amassed a wealth of knowledge related to the Golden Age of Flight Test Research at Edwards. He has written numerous books about aircraft and aviation history, including: Thundering Peacemaker: The B-36 Story in Words and Pictures (1978); Bombers in Blue: PB4Y-2 Privateers and PB4Y-1 Liberators (1979); Darkly Dangerous: The Northrop P-61 Black Widow Night Fighter (1981); F4U Corsair with Rikyu Watanabe (1983); B-24 Liberator (Warbird History, 1993); Douglas A-1 Skyraider: A Photo Chronicle (1994); B-24 Liberator: Rugged But Right (1999); Lockheed C-141 Starlifter (Warbird Tech V 39, 2005); Captured Eagles: Secrets of the Luftwaffe (2014).

The cover color photograph is "Balls Eight", the Boeing NB-52B taking off with the X-38 under its wing. The rear cover features color photographs of Republic's XF-84H "Thunderscreech", NASA's Vought F-8 Crusader testbed with its supercritical wing, and the NASA's Boeing 747 Shuttle mothership carrying Enterprise. I counted 166 black and white photographs, 92 color pictures, 4 black and white line drawings, and one black and white illustration on 204 glossy pages.

Leaning on his experience at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Frederick A. Johnsen dives into a review of aviation testbeds, parasites, and motherships with a marked focus on American and Canadian variants. He does reference a few aircraft in this category, such as Japan's Baka and the German's Mistel, but these are meant for reference only and do not represent the main thrust of this book. Johnsen starts off with early attempts at using balloons as a mothership to raise gliders to a proper altitude for extended flights. This preamble leads to testing at Langley, Virginia with NACA where different issues were probed like aircraft icing. The next chapter dives into parasitic aircraft like the Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk that was intended to protect the US Navy's airships and follow through to the Tom-Tom project where two RF-84F fighters joined their mothership, a RB-36F Peacemaker, at their wingtips. The next three chapters focus on testbeds followed by five chapters on motherships. The last two chapters cover the oddball test aircraft and lead into the Appendices. The Appendices consist of two detailed tables that help organize all the aircraft covered in this volume along with an excerpt of the 1969 report on the X-15A-2. The contents include the following sections:

  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1: Old School
    • Mother of All Motherships
    • Testbed Primeval
    • Piggyback Premier
    • Early NACA Testbeds
    • NACA B-24 Windscreen Icing Testbed
  • Chapter 2: Parasites with a Purpose
    • Germany's Mistels
    • Betty Takes Baka To Battle [Page 16]
    • V-1 and JB-2 Hitch a Ride
    • XF-85
    • FICON
    • Tip Tow and Tom-Tom
  • Chapter 3: Bomber Bonus Testbeds
    • Beating Swords Into Plowshares
    • General Electric Tested with Purpose
    • XB-29G GE Testbed
    • Liberators Light the Fire [Page 41]
    • B-50 Replaces XB-29G
    • GE's B-45 Testbeds
    • B-26 Autopilot
    • Westinghouse B-45
    • NACA B-29 Engine Testbed
    • Mixed-Engine Mitchell
    • B-17 Five-Engine Testbeds
    • Pratt& Whitney Twin Testbeds After the War
    • Pratt & Whitney's 1947 B-29 Testbed
    • B-50 Pratt & Whitney J57 Testbed
    • B-45s for Pratt & Whitney
    • C-124 Globemaster
    • Testbeds Come of Age
    • Sperry Gyroscope Test Fleet
    • B-26 Bicycle
    • Marauder with a Jet
    • Martin A-30 Knocks on Transonic Door
    • Allied Signal/Honeywell 720 Testbed
    • Honeywell 757 Testbed
    • B-52 Testbeds
    • B-58 J93 Mount for XB-70, XF-108 [Page 67]
    • B-47 Boosts A-10, S-3 Aircraft
    • Sole Savage
    • Havoc Subs for XF-11
  • Chapter 4: Transport Testbeds
    • GE Jetliners Test Engines Large and Small
    • C-82 Jet Thrust Reverser Test
    • Testbed Lights in the Sky
    • BAC-111
    • Dash-80 Testbed
    • Convair 990 Shuttle Stand-In
    • Mother Became a Testbed
    • Non-Standard C-141s are No Problem
    • Winging it with a 757
    • The Beast of Burbank
  • Chapter 5: Canadian Testbeds
    • Stratojet North of the Border
    • Canadian Pratt & Whitney Testbeds
    • Mallard on a Mission
    • Viscount Testbed
    • 720B Testbed
    • CF-100 Carried a Test Engine
    • Beech and Lear Testbeds
    • Two 747SPs
  • Chapter 6: Post-War Motherships
    • Navy Fortress and Bearcat
    • Bell X-1 Needed Boeing B-29
    • The X-1A Predicament
    • X-1D Met its Fate
    • B-50 as a Mothership
    • B-50 and Supersonic Drone
  • Chapter 7: Motherships in the Jet Age
    • "Higher, Faster, Farther"
    • B-52 versus B-36 as X-15 Mothership
    • Lifting the Lifting Bodies [Page 103]
    • B-52 Pylon Life
    • B-52H Benched
    • TriStar Mothership
  • Chapter 8: Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft
    • C-5 Nixed for Shuttle Carrier
    • Buran and Mriya for the Soviets
  • Chapter 9: Underwing and Useful
    • Glide Bombs Need a Bomber
    • Bat Goes to War
    • Radioplane Q-1
    • Firebee Finds a Home
  • Chapter 10: Scaled Composites' Motherships
    • Proteus Candidate for Space Launch
    • White Knight Rewrites Mothership Rationale
    • White Knight Two
    • Stratolaunch Promises More
  • Chapter 11: Airframe Mods and Systems Tests
    • Vega Virtues
    • One-Fourth as Big as a B-29
    • Clipped-Wing Invader
    • Swept-Wing Kingcobra
    • Up Periscope in an F-84G
    • XF-88B Turboprop Testbed
    • XF-84H Broke a Different Kind of Sound Barrier
    • XB-47D Tries Turboprops Inboard
    • X-21A Testbed Based on B-66
    • NC-131 Mimics Many
    • NASA F-8 Supercritical Wing [Page 144]
    • NASA F-8 Fly-By-Wire Testbed
    • F-16 VISTA Inflight Simulator
    • Whale Mimics Tomcat
    • Seaplane Slippers
    • F-5 Attenuated Sonic Boom
    • AWJSRA and QSRA
    • Hiller X-18
    • Kaman K-16B
    • F-16XL Cranked Arrow
    • ATFI F-16
    • Quiet Spike
  • Chapter 12: Miscellanea
    • Jenny Mounts a Glider
    • Hydro-Ski Tests the Water
    • Combination Night Fighter Notion Not Developed
    • Soviet Nuclear Mothership Concept
    • Getting the Jump on Ejection Seats
    • Bell P-83 and Ramjets
    • NACA Motherships with Drop Models [Page 162]
    • NACA Ramjet Testbeds
    • Marquardt's Ramjets
    • Marquardt Gorgon Navy Missile
    • Lincoln Turboprop Tests
    • French Spoils of War
    • Czech, Please
    • Supersonic Trimotor F-106
    • From X-Plane to Testbed
    • Blackbird Booster
    • C-130 Balloon Launcher
    • Trimotor Beech 18 for Continental
    • Unducted Fan Testbeds
    • NASA Propfan
    • C-5 Launches a Minuteman
    • 747 Tanker Dry Run
    • Micro-Fighters and Motherships
    • The Case for Engine Testbeds
  • Epilogue
  • Appendix 1: Testbed Aircraft
  • Appendix 2: Mothership Aircraft
  • Appendix 3: Glossary of Acronyms and Abbreviations
  • Appendix 4: The X-15A-2 Report
  • Selected Reading
  • Endnotes
  • Index

I have several books on Langley and Dryden test aircraft, and although there are a few tried and true photographs of the more publicized test programs in this book, I was thrilled to find many that I had not heard of before. I don't know if there ever could be an absolute tome that would contain everything on testbeds and motherships, but Johnsen's effort is certainly a good stab at what is currently not classified. I certainly don't remember seeing much published on transport testbeds, and Johnsen has delivered a whole chapter. There are plenty of sharp, clear photographs, but one that caught my eye is provided below from page 41. It shows off the 20mm gun and associated radar that was installed on aB-24L, that was re-designated XB-25Q, and served as a testbed for the B-47 tail gun emplacement. As a bonus, Specialty Press and Johnsen are offering that the first 100 Orders Receive an Autographed Copy!

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

Highly recommended!

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