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Dyna-Soar: Hypersonic Strategic Weapons System

Dyna-Soar: Hypersonic Strategic Weapons System Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review September 2014 Title Dyna-Soar: Hypersonic Strategic Weapons System
Author Robert Godwin Publisher Apogee Books
Published 2014 ISBN 9781896522951
Format 464 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $32.95


British mourn the TSR-2.  And Canadians lament the CF-105.  Technologically advanced aerospace programs myopically axed by politics and economics haunt history.

But few efforts held the promise of America's revolutionary X-20 Dyna-Soar – a remarkable, reusable "space shuttle" originally slated for orbit in the mid-1960's.

Apogee Books has provided a matchless compendium of critical government documents outlining the saga of this extraordinary lost opportunity.

Inspired by Eugen Sänger's efforts to develop a sub-orbital intercontinental bomber for Nazi Germany, the design evolved from a successful 1952 initiative by former German General Walter Dornberger.  By 1954, the United States Air Force and the Bell Aircraft Company teamed to chart the nascent bomber-reconnaissance weapon system.  And five years later, Boeing won the first prime development and manufacturing contract.

Project progress literally pushed the envelope of aerospace research.  Eventually dubbed Dyna-Soar – short for DYNAmic SOARer – the spacecraft was designed to reach 18,000 miles per hour and any point on Earth in hours.

Although production had begun and test pilots selected, the X-20 never flew.  By program termination in late 1963, the Dyna-Soar effort consumed $430 million of U.S. taxpayer's money – a vital down payment, nonetheless, on STS Space Shuttle R&D.

Expertly edited by Robert Godwin, the 464-page volume features dozens of chronologically arranged archives, data, and promotional material.  Modelers will value the book's extraordinary X-20 vehicle details: scale drawings, dimensions and photographs.  Historians will relish Dyna-Soar and booster evolution through the prism of official sources.  And technology enthusiasts will marvel at the astonishing number of X-20 program breakthroughs.

But all will appreciate Apogee's special bonus: a region-free DVD with over 90 minutes of rare Dyna-Soar film footage.  Of special interest are the USAF's "1961-1962 Dyna-Soar Progress Report" and "The Story of Dyna-Soar" documentary – the latter bearing striking semblance to Walt Disney's innovative "Man In Space" telecasts.

What a ripping read!  From airframe design to materials development to crew ergonomics, stillborn X-20 technology remains surprisingly valid today.  And Robert Godwin's evocative compendium does superb justice to one of aerospace history's great "what ifs".

Robustly recommended!

With thanks to Apogee Books.