Book Review
North American X-15
North American X-15 X-Planes 3
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

North American X-15 is the 3rd title in Osprey Publishing LTD's series X-Planes. Modelers and enthusiasts of the fastest manned aircraft, ever, will be thrilled with the amount of technical and other data and information presented by author Peter E. Davies. Adam Tooby provides original artwork. This 80-page book is catalogued with Osprey's short code XPL 3 and as ISBN 9781472819918. The book is available in three formats: paperback; PDF; ePUB.
    The revolutionary X-15 remains the fastest manned aircraft ever to fly. Built in the two decades following World War II, it was the most successful of the high-speed X-planes. The only recently broken ‘sound barrier' was smashed completely by the X-15, which could hit Mach 6.7 and soar to altitudes above 350,000ft, beyond the edge of space. Several pilots qualified as astronauts by flying above 50 miles altitude in the X-15, including Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon. The three X-15s made 199 flights, testing new technologies and techniques which greatly eased America's entry into manned space travel, and made the Apollo missions and Space Shuttle viable propositions. With historical photographs and stunning digital artwork, this is the story of arguably the greatest of the X-Planes. - Osprey

America's classic X-Planes were flying before and after I was born. I was alive for most of the X-15's career, and my brother built a Revell X-15 model, so this aircraft has a special interest for me. This review will looks at this history of The Black Beast including Conceptual Design, Preliminary Design, and Detail Design.

North American X-15 is presented through 80 pages of content in five chapters:
    Further Reading

BEATING THE HEAT begins its 11 page conceptual introduction with OKB-1's Sputnik 1 satellite. Sputnik scared the West and lit a fire under their governments for thermal barrier research of "hypersonic" aircraft design. Fortunately, the legendary North American Aviation (NAA) already had the X-15 proposal. This chapter also discusses Bell Aircraft's X-2, Douglas' D-558, and Nazi Germany research into a hypersonic "skip-gliding" bomber. A section of the chapter focuses on the contenders of the proposal to build hypersonic research aircraft, examining the various aircarft and what brought NAA's X-15 to the forefront.

This chapter also covers amazing "gee-whiz" technical topics such as the need to develop new structural materials, powerplants, and fuels.

BUILDING THE BLACK BEAST is 18 pages of remarkable reseasrch delivered in subchapters:
    BOOSTER BOMBER (hefting X-15 aloft)
    SUITED FOR SPACE (pressure suits)

A great amount of diverse information is presented in this chapter, such as the choice of the F-104 Starfighter as the chase plane. X-15 pilots endured high-g centrifuges, over 1,000 times in 3 months! (That led to improving the cockpit design so the pilots could actually access controls under high-g.)

THREE BLACK BIRDS recounts the first three X-15s. It presents that trio that established valid test data even amid many failures and several accidents. There is a wealth of anecdotes such as Crossfield's omission of using the "rectal probe" for his "physiological package" flight. Technical narratives continue with aircraft performance, performance of equipment and pilots, and the type of new or improved equipment installed in the X-15.

Fifteen pages later is THE ENVELOPE EXPANDS with 25 pages of new pilots, new variants and design features, and new adventures of flight testing, i.e., Neil Armstrong "skipping" across the atmosphere to overshoot his landing area by 45 miles! It also suffers from the only typo I discovered, stating in the text that Bob White's first Mach 6 flight was on November 6, while the caption of a profile states November 9.

Another detailed account is the crash of Jack mcKay's X-15-2 emergency landing, due to a flap failure. Bill Dana knocked his checklist loose during a weightless recovery;
    I had 27 pages of checklists floating around the cockpit with me - it was like trying to read Shakespeare sitting under a maple tree on October during a high wind.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN concludes the history of the X-15 program. NASA and USAF rejected many far-fetched ideas although they considered others. X-15 research revealed thermal data that made ICBMs possible, research into the SST (Super Sonic Transport), and a host of other things that put Americans on the moon. Finally, NAA became Rockwell and Rockwell built the Space Shuttle.

A fascinating book.

Photographs, Artwork, Graphics
Color photography was common in that era of flight testing. This gallery of art, photos, and technical graphics is exceptional.

Modelers, aerospace-oriented enthusiasts, and historians will marvel at some of the photos. One of many remarkable images is a color photo after a flight with Detecto-Temp paint, exposing dissimilar heating levels absorbed by the airframe. Another is a cockpit shot of a shattered canopy following the first Mach 6 flight.

A picture beats a thousand words and this book features a zillion words worth of photos, company diagrams, and artwork. Color dominates the gallery and all artwork is in color. Ever seen a pink X-15? You will in this book.

I did not count the number of photographs that support the text and yet there is hardly a page without a splash of X-15 color, or at least clear black-and-white evidence of the incredible aircraft.

Artist Adam Tooby created original color artwork to help the reader visualize what was not visually recorded.

1. Inside the X-15: cutaway profile of the X-15 structure and equipment, keyed to 36 components.

2. NAA X-15-1 66-670, Edwards AFB, California, April 19, 1960: profile of 66-670 on flight 1-5-10.

3. NAA X-15-2 66-671, Edwards AFB, California, November 9, 1961: first Mach 6, piloted by Bob White, with heat-resistant ablator material applied.

4. Two-page centerfold Piloted Spaceflight: Maj. Bob Rushworth's June 27, 1963 mission in X-15-3, taking him high enough to qualify him as an astronaut.

5. NAA X-15A-2 66-671:three-view of the veteran rocket plane with external tanks.

6. Two-page centerfold Mach 6.7: the final flight of white coated X-15-2 in 1967, setting an unofficial maximum speed.

7. NAA X-15A-3 66-672, Edwards AFB, California, April 28, 1967: profile of 66672 without the lower vertical fin.

8. "In-action" illustration X-15B - What Might Have Been: the advanced X-15 shedding its Navaho boosters and heading towards orbital performance.

* Shaded callout panels focus on remarkable subjects. The one in this book is Albert Scott Crossfield, a biography.

* NAA technical drawing, X-15 ejection seat: keyed with over a dozen captions.

* Concept illustration of a proposed XB-70/X-15 combination.

North American X-15 by Osprey is another fascinating book for modelers, aerospace-oriented enthusiasts, and historians of the X-Plane era. It is full of highly detailed text and first-hand accounts by the pilots.

I found one typo in the text, as noted above. I judge it to be minor and it should not confuse the reader into distraction.

This is another book that should be popular on aviation modeler's shelves and I recommend it.
Highs: Color photography was common in that era of flight testing. This gallery of art, photos, and technical graphics is exceptional. The text is highly detailed and features first-hand accounts by pilots.
Lows: Date typo.
Verdict: This is another fascinating book for modelers, aerospace-oriented enthusiasts, and historians of the X-Plane era. It should be popular on aviation modeler's shelves.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: XPL 3, 97814728199
  PUBLISHED: Nov 13, 2018
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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