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Contrails over the Mojave: The Golden Age of Jet Flight Testing at Edwards Air Force Base.

Contrails over the Mojave: The Golden Age of Jet Flight Testing at Edwards Air Force Base. By George J. Marrett. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2008 Photographs. Notes. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. $29.95 ISBN: 159114-511-0

Contrails centers on the "golden age of jet flight testing" at Edwards AFB during a time when experimental aircraft entered the stage of supersonic flight. It was the time when speed and altitude records were waiting to be broken, and men with boyhood dreams--Yeager, Crossfield, Anders, White, Marrett, and many others--accepted the challenge to push the envelope and become the heroes of an entirely new generation. Marrett caught the flying bug during World War II when he and a friend took a flight in a Piper J-3 Cub. The hook was set; from that day forward Marrett decided he would become a pilot.

The book has eleven chapters that chronicle Marrett's start with the Air Force until his tour with the Flight Test Center at Edwards. He begins with a history of the Flight Test Center from its official designation on June 25, 1951. It was that same year that the USAF Test Pilot School had moved from Wright Field to Edwards with a curriculum that focused on traditional performance testing along with the rising new field of stability and control that "had suddenly assumed critical importance with the dramatic increases" due to the new turbojets.

Marrett then describes his experiences at primary flying school at Bainbridge, Georgia, where Southern Airways held the contract to train undergraduate pilots in the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor. After only thirty hours of flying, Marrett progressed to the Cessna T-37 and had finally become a "jet pilot." Following primary, he headed west to Webb AFB, in Big Springs, Texas, for basic flying school, where he learned to fly the Lockheed T-33. Reassigned to Georgia--this time at Moody AFB--he flew the North American F-86L in advanced flying school. Having won his wings, Marrett received his assignment to the 84th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton AFB, Calif., where he flew the McDonnell F-101B Voodoo.

In 1963, Marrett was selected for Class 63A at the Test Pilot School, took a five-day physical examination, and arrived at the school in December with Class 64A. Colonel Chuck Yeager served as commandant and had changed the curriculum and even the name of the school to the Aerospace Research Pilot School, commonly referred to as "Yeager's Charm School."

Following graduation, Marrett was assigned to the Fighter Branch of Flight Test Operations where he would fly the latest fighter aircraft and fly chase to other test aircraft as they set world speed and altitude records. Most interesting is chase work with the North American XB-70A Valkyrie. Because of its many mechanical problems, chase pilots nicknamed it "Cecil, the Seasick Sea Serpent." Marrett tells the story of one sad flight in June 1966, when his regular T-38 mission was changed because the number two Valkyrie had crashed north of Barstow. After getting airborne, he was instructed to look for another downed aircraft, a NASA Starfighter flown by Joe Walker. Walker had collided with the B-70 as he was attempting to form up on its right wing for a "photo op." He and the B-70's copilot were killed.

As Maj. Gen. Robert White stated in the Foreword, this work speaks about the aircraft that were flown at Edwards but, more specifically, it speaks more on the "people, their lives, their families, their hopes and dreams, and the courage with which they faced the possibility of death on any given day." The book is a must for any aviation enthusiast interested in the early days of jet aircraft testing. Marrett's writing places the reader in the cockpit racing along the contrails and tells the exciting story of being a test pilot for the greatest air force in the world.

R. Ray Ortensie, Staff Historian, HQ Air Education and Training Command, Randolph AFB, Tex.
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Author:Ortensie, R. Ray
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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