NASA Lifting Bodies and the Birth of the Space Shuttle

Milton O. Thompson and Curtis Peebles

Smithsonian Institution Press, ca 1999
Price:  approx. $129 NEW if you can find it (was $30 when in print !)   
                         Used:$8-100 in listings


 With still no idea why this book happens to search out at this price, I am happy to give it a thumbs up review. Note also I found my copy on a used book shelf, not one run by imbeciles either. Affordable volumes aren’t impossible to find, is my point. (I have search data saved, FYI.)
 Interesting authorship here. Milton Thompson is the Northrop HL-10 pilot centered in the cover photo and his co-author Curtis Peebles never actually met as such. As fate would have it though, Peebles was on Edwards AFB grounds doing other research when Dr Jim Young came out of his office to let all the folk present that Milt Thompson had just succumbed to a heart attack at age 67. Weirder still, that was same day he was to be honored at dinner with award of his second NASA Distinguished Service Medal and Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal from same. He’d already begun the process leading to their paths again crossing so that Thompson’s legacy was deservedly to see light of day. Thanks for this should go to another talented writer/historian of note, Dr Richard P. Hallion, who gave Mr Peebles
a glowing recommendation when consulted after several years of doldrums followed by no results in a hard year of searching for someone who could (excuse me) close out this stillborn important book!

 All the details are covered in the preface, which reader should not skip.  Milton Thompson’s gift for giving a great story while making sure with old school  engineering precision to have all important details and linkages realized, shines through every page. Curtis Peebles gives two excellent chapters himself with no doubt, but as he makes clear what you’re reading is Pilot/Engineer/Champion Thompson’s voice of history made, in the making. Made excruciatingly clear and wonderfully so, is how literally a very few good men bucked the system, “common sense”, even direct threats to their careers to see through what proved to be creative genius, about to be discarded without fair trial. On the cheap no less, another fine bit of capturing what can be done well with more investment in human capital as opposed to green $$. 
 X-20 DynaSoar, which cemented Thompson’s certainty on lifting bodies being the final answer, while entire story of the Rogallo “parasail” which took him entirely away from this for an interesting while.
 Tale of the wooden bathtub known as M2F-1 which began here at Ames (manned wind tunnel tests, a process fraught with as much peril as“normal” test flying of any vehicle) the storied ’61 Pontiac which was its “propulsion”. Later on, another car, a ’54 Ford driven by pilot Bruce Gentry, serves as point to a recurrent theme of Thompson’s, how a small team of truly committed folks can achieve results that a
much bigger and better funded organization will fail repeatedly at. Humorous true tale, also excellently supportive of Milt Thompson’s forecast that dynamics like Lockheed Skunk Works have nothing at all to fear in challenges to their awesome reputations for outsize performance in achievement for the many years ahead. Which he uses as a framework to the rich personal history of the M2F-1, M2F-2,   HL-10, X24A & B, SV-5J, M2F-3 programs which Thompson intimately part of, though not all as a pilot. Milt directly credits Paul Bikle of NASA for having much to do with successes of the many programs, book is full of detailed and hard currency facts to support his findings. Flying Without Wings covers day to day operations in vivid living detail yet very sparingly written (quite a feat in my appreciative reading) and also keeps reader contextually framed with all the ongoing history in the making in big picture. Go find this and read. You’ll be very glad you did, perhaps end up wishing to do these as models! - mick