The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters

  • Published

The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters by Steve Pace. Zenith Press, 2016, 360 pp.


In The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters, freelance aviation history writer Steve Pace attempts to showcase the history of the US Air Force’s fighter and bomber X-plane inventory in a lushly illustrated compendium of aircraft and program details. To label such an endeavor as grand would be understated, yet Pace does a fine job of exposing the reader to not only the stories of the service’s most endearing aircraft, such as the F-86, F-15, and B-52, but also those of aircraft that never saw operational use, let alone production. Relying largely on his previous primary source research for other projects, Pace weaves a story starting from the Air Force’s first X-plane—the XP-59A—and ends by examining the F-35A, as well as potential future projects. Overall, his message is clear: today’s bomber and fighter pilots owe their combat capability to the numerous engineers and other professionals in the developmental world—many of whom lost their lives—who willingly sought to expose Mother Nature’s secrets tucked away in the sky (p. 9, 352). 

The fact that Pace includes the details of some of the individuals responsible for taming many an exotic aircraft is refreshing. In contrast to the myriad aircraft books available, the author expertly blends the history of a plane’s development with data about its performance and experimentation in design, along with short anecdotes of the test pilots who flew these new aircraft. Pace’s book seems to be unique in that his work is about more than just airplanes, but people as well, which makes sense in light of his overall message. 

Unfortunately, while Pace’s effort is laudatory for its detail, there are areas where the reader would likely desire better accuracy and precision. For instance, while Pace explains with great care the tragic accident of XP-79B test pilot Harry H. Crosby, he completely fails to discuss a similar accident involving Capt Glen Edwards during the test of the XP-79B’s offspring, the YB-49 (p. 26–32, 91–92). Such an omission is notable if for no other reason than Captain Edwards is the namesake of the home of Air Force flight testing–Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California. There are other minor inaccuracies, such as the statement that the F-15E is still in production (p. 299). Perchance, it is the test pilot behind this review, but it would have been nice if Pace had discussed some of the anomalies discovered during the testing of more modern aircraft, something he did quite well in his review of many of the Air Force’s earliest experimental aircraft. To wit, during testing, there is a well-known case where the YF-22 exhibited objectionable pitch response during the landing phase. The pilot was able to back out of the control loop preventing a fully developed pilot-inducedoscillation mere feet above the Edwards AFB runway. 

Still, despite these minor inaccuracies and omissions, Pace accomplished what few others have; he has written a genuinely interesting history of the Air Force’s fighter and bomber fleet with enough detail to satisfy most aviation buffs while also including the stories of many of the people behind these amazing technological innovations. This book should appeal to many different readers because of Pace’s unique blend of writing that is accompanied by wonderful illustrations. Overall, this reviewer recommends The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters

Lt Col Ryan A. Sanford, USAF
Las Vegas, Nevada

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."