Specialty Press' Testbeds, Motherships & Parasites


Frederick A Johnsen


Specialty Press


$32.95 from Specialty Press


Scott Van Aken

Notes: ISBN 978-1-58007-241-0, 204 pages, hundreds of photos, Softcover, 10 x 10 inches

Most folks realize that when it comes to advances in aviation, it is often very useful to have a way to test things prior to actually using them. In the very early days of flight, one of the ways of doing that was to take gliders up under balloons and then release them to test how they flew. Eventually this resulted in using aircraft to test out things like wing design, engines and other items.

In this book, the author covers pretty much American testing with a small bit of using American aircraft to help test Canadian systems. During and directly after WWII, parasite fighters were considered to be a way to solve some issues. In the 30's the 'flying aircraft carrier', the dirigibles Akron and Macon successfully operated small Curtis F9C fighters. In this case it wasn't the aircraft that were the issue, but the inability of lighter than air craft to withstand weather conditions with both being lost in storms. The Japanese also used parasite aircraft with the rocket powered Ohka and though not mentioned in the book, the Soviets attached I-16 fighters to TB-3 bombers. None of these were particularly successful, but it did spike an interest in the US which resulted in the XF-85 and the RF-84K 'Ficon' programs.

However, it was engine testbeds that saw the greatest use with excess bombers being used to carry experimental turboprops and jet engines to evaluate their effectiveness in hopes of production contracts. Several worked out quite well while others were too rife with bugs to be easily developed. This is particularly true of early turboprops.

Then there were rather exotic experiments such as the wing tip mounted 'tip tow' experiments and the experiments used to evaluate different wing designs as well as the work done to properly develop fly by wire control systems. Of course, there were also the experimental aircraft that operated best by being carried aloft for launch in order to get the best performance. The X-1/2/15 and Skyrocket programs being major beneficiaries of this outlook. There were also lifting bodies used to develop the Space Shuttle design and the Shuttle carrier 737 that was used to transport the Shuttles to overhaul and back to the launch pads. Even today, programs such as Pegasus require air launching to reach low earth orbit.

This book covers a huge variety of programs and the actual number of aircraft covered as test aircraft or motherships is really remarkable. Each of the programs is well covered and there are a lot of really great photos to help illustrate this book. Specialty Press is well regarded for these sorts of books and this one is no exception to their long and very successful series of books. I very much enjoyed reading this one, learned a lot, and can quite easily recommend it to you.

February 2018

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