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

I’ve always found testbed aircraft to be a fascinating subject -these are often familiar types that have been converted into sometimes barely recognizable forms to serve as airborne laboratories for developing new aerodynamics, engines, electronics, and other systems. Although perhaps not as glamorous as combat types, these “oddball” aircraft have played a major part in advancing flight, and author Frederick Johnsen has done a splendid job of chronicling them in this volume.

Some highlights:

Chapter 2: Parasites with a Purpose Focueses of postwar efforts such as the XF-85 Goblin, FICON, Tip Tow and Tom Tom, but also has coverage of the F9C Sparrowhawk, German Mistel, Japanese Ohka, as well as the use of B-17s to launch JB-2 missiles.

Chapter 3: Bomber Bonus Testbed Includes: Photos detailing a NACA B-24M used as a testbed for Westinghouse jet engines

XB-24Q for testing the B-47’s tail turret

Excellent coverage of the five-engined B-17 testbeds, including a shot of a 299Z with a J65 under the nose.

RP-38 Lightning with second cockpit fitted on the port boom.

JM-1 Marauder with a Westinghouse 19B turbojet.

Chapter 6: Postwar Motherships Includes several photos of the P2B (B-29) launch aircraft for the D-558-II Skyrocket, including close-up damage photos for a runaway propeller accident. There are also photos of the B-50 mothership for the Bell X-2.

Chapter 7: Motherships in the Jet Age Details the career of the NB-52 motherships used over the years to launch the X-15, lifting bodies, HiMAT and DAST drones, the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle, and ultimately the X-43 hypersonic test article.

Chapter 11: Airframe Mods and System Tests Some highlights:

Bell L-39 swept-wing testbed

XF-88B and XF-84H turboprops

Northrop X-21

Hiller X-18 tilt-wing

Chapter 12: Miscellanea Includes: P-61 and JD-1 eject seat testbeds P-61, F-82, and B-29 ramjet test aircraft Details of an F-106 with underwing J85s

There are many more subjects in this detailed and well illustrated book. A definite “must have” for those interested in out of the ordinary aircraft and for modellers looking for a unique subject.

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