US Combat Aircraft Fly-Off Competitions

Published: July 20th, 2016     
Product Image
Front cover
Author: Erik Simonsen
Reviewed by: 
Frank Landrus, IPMS# 35035
Company: Specialty Press
ISBN #: 978-1-58007-227-4
Other Publication Information: Illustrations - Erik Simonsen, Hard Bound, 10” x 10”, 228 pages
Price: $44.95
Product / Stock #: SP227

Over the past 30 years Californian Erik Simonsen has worked as a manager and director of communications in the aerospace industry. An avid aviation photographer since the 1960s, Erik also has an intense interest in astronomy and has served as a planetarium director and program manager. Honing skills acquired from a graphics and fine arts background, his blending of aviation photography with special effects techniques has delivered eye-catching imagery. Erik Simonsen's photography has been featured in corporate advertising and various aerospace-related magazines including, Aerospace America, Air Force Magazine, Aviation Week & Space Technology and Flight international. A member of the International Society for Aviation Photography (ISAP), American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), Air Force Association (AFA), U.S. Naval Institute (USNI), The Planetary Society, and Senior Member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Erik Simonsen breaks the post WWII competitions into ten major chapters, preceded by a Prologue chapter (as seen below). Simonsen describes each of the Fly-Off Competitions in detail starting with the Medium Jet Bomber competition (XB-45, XB-46, XB-47, and XB-48) all the way through to the Joint Strike Fighter competition that the Lockheed Martin F-35 won. The design evolutions and political intrigue at play in the decision process is well covered. The use of test pilot accounts brings a nice perspective as well. Erik Simonsen puts his graphics skills by depicting how many of the 'losers' in the competitions may have looked operationally (i.e.: Page 61 top left).

I especially enjoyed the chapter on "The Penetration Fighter" describing the McDonnell XF-88, North American YF-93A, the Lockheed XF-90. I've always liked the Lockheed XF-90's design (which may be dating myself to its 'Blackhawk' fame) which unfortunately became a victim of inadequate engines. The ultimate value of the XF-90 would be to spur the development of a few other Skunk Works transformative designs.

I counted 156 black and white photographs and an additional 400 color pics. You also get fourteen color profiles and 28 drawings. Each chapter ends with a specification table for an easy performance comparison of the individual combatants.

The Chapters include:

  • Foreword by Richard P. Hallion
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Prologue: Early Technology Shapes the Future
    • A Leading Edge [Page 9]
    • Operation LUSTY
    • Secrets Hidden Right Before Your Eyes
    • Wind "Tunnel Vision"
    • Flight Testing Luftwaffe Aircraft
    • Furys, Tornados, and Sabres
    • Sharpening the Sabre
  • Chapter 1: The Quest for a Medium Jet Bomber
    • Let the Planes Begin [Page 18]
    • North American Aviation XB-45 Tornado: Preplanning Expertise
    • Tornado: A Twist of Fate
    • The Tornado Flies First
    • Tragedy at Muroc
    • Lesson Number One: Maintain a Strong Defense
    • Mission Possible
    • Consolidated -Vultee (Convair) XB-46
    • Graceful Design Takes Flight
    • Glenn L. Martin Company XB-48: Rocky Arrival
    • Second Prototype Approved
    • Boeing XB-47 Stratojet: A Clean Sweep
    • It All Began
    • Record Setter [Page 30]
    • Ratcheting-Up Production
    • Perilous Surveillance: The Cost of the Cold War
    • Specifications (Table)
  • Chapter 2: Continuing the Journey to Jets
    • North American Aviation AJ-1 Savage
    • Avro CF-100 Canuck
    • Martin XB-51: The Flying Cigar
    • The XB-51 Unveiled
    • Toward the Unknown
    • Slim Bird Takes to the Air
    • Flight Testing at Edwards AFB
    • Additional Test Pilot Remarks
    • Program Cancellation
    • New Specifications: Wingspan, Length, Height - and Politics
    • Prototype Accidents
    • The Canberra: English Import
    • Early Conclusions
    • The Winner Takes All - Almost
    • Nip and Tuck Modifications
    • Mockup Review
    • Super Canberra [Page 50]
    • Asymmetric Thrust Hazard
    • Pressing Ahead
    • Southeast Asia Combat Service
    • Specifications (Table)
  • Chapter 3: The Penetration Fighter
    • Updated Requirements
    • Believing in Voodoo
    • Good News and Bad News
    • The Lockheed XF-90
    • The North American Aviation YF-93A [Page 61]
    • Rating Positive and Negative
    • Budget Pressures
    • An Unglamorous Finish
    • F-101 Voodoo: A Rebirth
    • Voodoo: The Need for Speed
    • Sharp Eyes in the Nose
    • Specifications (Table)
  • Chapter 4: The Heavy Bomber Comes of Age
    • Dueling Heavyweights
    • Boeing Gets to Work
    • Flexibility Was Key
    • Let's Meet Again
    • Convair was Not Complacent
    • The B-36 Going Swept
    • Punching Through the Clouds
    • The Convair Cancellation [Page 75]
    • The Stratofortress: Cold War Mainstay
    • Congressional Bomber Battles
    • ICBMs Versus Manned Bombers
    • Fuel Savings: Missed Opportunities
    • Better Late Than Never
    • Some Explaining To Do
    • A Tanker Win-Win Decision
    • A Standoff Platform
    • Continuing the Lineage
    • Model H for "Hell Raiser"
    • Specifications (Table)
  • Chapter 5: The Cold War Tactical Fighter [Page 87]
    • Evolution of the Thunderchief
    • Back on Track, Almost
    • Prototype Down
    • Category II Testing
    • The NAA F-107A: A Rocky Start
    • A Tug of War Timetable
    • Shaping the F-107A
    • F-107A Emerges From Its Cocoon
    • Into the Light
    • F-107A Designated Flight-Test Assignments
    • Take It To the Limit
    • Program Reductions Continue
    • "Go!" for Mach 2
    • Program Conclusions
    • Competition Analysis
    • Shortchanged
    • A Mysterious Data Package
    • The Thunderchief Enters Service
    • Historic Significance
    • The Thud In Combat
    • A Flawed Strategy
    • Specifications (Table)
  • Chapter 6: Phantoms and Crusaders
    • Rise of the Phantom II
    • Phantom II Takes Flight
    • The Three Missileers
    • The Chance-Vought Crusader III
    • Close Performance Parameters [Page 110]
    • Crusader Rabbit III Goes Airborne
    • Single Seat Strategy
    • Decision Time Viewed From the Vought Side
    • Phantom II: The Winner
    • Navy Phantoms: Testing and Breaking Records
    • Deja vu All Over Again
    • Air Force Phantoms
    • Prudent Advice Went Unheeded
    • The F-4 In Combat
    • Have Gun, Will Travel
    • The Wolfpack
    • Turning a New Strategy Leaf - Too Late
    • Outstanding Career
    • Specifications (Table)
  • Chapter 7: Pursuit of Close Air Support
    • A-X Start Up
    • Birth of the Thunderbolt II
    • A Functional Design
    • Thinking In the Box
    • Northrop YA-9A [Page 127]
    • Unusual Looking, But Stable
    • Quick Turnaround
    • YA-9A: Ready For the Competition
    • Beware the Avenger
    • Fairchild A-X Down-Select
    • No Hawg Heaven For Northrop's YA-9A
    • YA-9A Survivors
    • Congressional Meddling: Not Out Of the Woods Yet
    • A-10A Enters Service
    • A-X Program Milestones
    • Who Let the Hawgs Out
    • One For the Log Book
    • The A-10A's Legacy Continues
    • Hawgs and Predators
    • Retiring the A-10: A Rocky Start
    • Former Warthog Driver and Lawmaker Strafes A-10 Retirement Discussion
    • Continuous Upgrades
    • A-10 Replacement
    • An Inconvenient Sleuth
    • Specifications (Table)
  • Chapter 8: Battle of the Lightweight Fighters
    • YF-16: A Classic Design Emerges
    • Rollout and Going Airborne
    • YF-16 Flight Test Program Highlights (Page 149]
    • Northrop's Preliminary Work For the LWF
    • Hooded Cobra
    • Good Timing
    • Rollout
    • Accelerating Change
    • Flying the Twin-Engine Twin-Tailed Fighter
    • A New Kid In Town
    • YF-17 Program Milestones
    • YF-17 Flight-Test Program Highlights: December 1974
    • Selection Day
    • New Design Emerges
    • Onward To Full-Scale Development
    • F-16 Milestones
    • Vipers: Going Operational
    • Sting of the Hornet
    • The Super Hornet
    • The Hornet 2000 Study
    • The General Dynamics F-16XL [Page 166]
    • The LWF Competition Was Unique
    • Specifications (Table)
  • Chapter 9: Wings Over the Mojave Desert: The Advanced Tactical Fighter
    • To Fly-Off Or Not To Fly-Off?
    • Northrop YF-23A: Rolling Out the Future
    • Flying the Black Widow II
    • Black Widow II: It's All In the Name
    • Lockheed YF-22A
    • Rollout and First Flight
    • YF-23 Parts Commonality
    • Decision Time and a Precursor For Future Production [Page 181]
    • Nip and Tuck
    • F-22 Production Costs
    • Exporting the Raptor
    • Secretary Gates Takes Action
    • Behind-the-Scenes Maneuvering
    • Following a Flawed Strategy
    • Congressional Required Reading
    • Active Raptors
    • Specifications (Table)
  • Chapter 10: Competition of the Century: The Joint Strike Fighter
    • Joint Advanced Strike Technology
    • Transition To Joint Strike Fighter
    • Boeing X-32 JSF One Team
    • The Strategy Behind the Contour
    • Refining the Design
    • First Flight of Boeing's JSF Candidate
    • X-32B STOVL Variant
    • Boeing Advanced Program Manufacturing Experience [Page 199]
    • Lockheed Martin X-35
    • Borrowing Parts To Cut Costs
    • X-35A First Flight
    • Ups and Downs
    • Announcement Day
    • An Immense Task For a Single Prime Contractor
    • Keeping Cost Down: No Easy Solution
    • Those Shifting Cost Estimates
    • Program Setbacks: Options
    • Scrap the CTOL Variant
    • Sticker Shock
    • Looking Back
    • Electrons Rule (Page 211]
    • The Future With Sensor Fusion
    • Variants Getting Up To Speed: F-35C CV
    • F-35B STOVL
    • F-35A CTOL
    • Specifications [Table]
  • Glossary
  • Endnotes
  • Index

Overall this tome presents an outstanding tale of Post-WWII-era fly-off competitions for bombers and fighters. This is a must read for those who wish to better understand the political intrigues that chose the fly-off winners rather than raw data. The photography is excellent along with the numerous examples of conceptual photo illustration combos.

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

Highly recommended!

  • Back cover
    Back cover
  • Page 9
    Page 9
  • Page 18
    Page 18
  • Page 30
    Page 30
  • Page 50
    Page 50
  • Page 61
    Page 61
  • Page 75
    Page 75
  • Page 87
    Page 87
  • Page 110
    Page 110
  • Page 127
    Page 127
  • Page 149
    Page 149
  • Page 166
    Page 166
  • Page 181
    Page 181
  • Page 199
    Page 199
  • Page 211
    Page 211

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