Beyond Blue Skies


Beyond Blue Skies

The Rocket Plane Programs That Led to the Space Age

Chris Petty
Foreword by Dennis R. Jenkins

Outward Odyssey: A People's History of Spaceflight Series

408 pages
30 photographs, 2 illustrations, index


November 2020


$36.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

November 2020


$36.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

November 2020


$36.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

In 1945 some experts still considered the so-called sound barrier an impenetrable wall, while winged rocket planes remained largely relegated to science fiction. But soon a series of unique rocket-powered research aircraft and the dedicated individuals who built, maintained, and flew them began to push the boundaries of flight in aviation’s quest to move ever higher, ever faster, toward the unknown. Beyond Blue Skies examines the thirty-year period after World War II during which aviation experienced an unprecedented era of progress that led the United States to the boundaries of outer space.

Between 1946 and 1975, an ancient dry lakebed in California’s High Desert played host to a series of rocket-powered research aircraft built to investigate the outer reaches of flight. The western Mojave’s Rogers Dry Lake became home to Edwards Air Force Base, NASA’s Flight Research Center, and an elite cadre of test pilots. Although one of them—Chuck Yeager—would rank among the most famous names in history, most who flew there during those years played their parts away from public view. The risks they routinely accepted were every bit as real as those facing NASA’s astronauts, but no magazine stories or free Corvettes awaited them—just long days in a close-knit community in the High Desert.

The role of not only the test pilots but the engineers, aerodynamicists, and support staff in making supersonic flight possible has been widely overlooked. Beyond Blue Skies charts the triumphs and tragedies of the rocket-plane era and the unsung efforts of the men and women who made amazing achievements possible.


Author Bio

Chris Petty is a space and aviation enthusiast and author of The High Frontier blog. His articles have appeared on Adam Savage’s Tested site and the Space Review. Dennis R. Jenkins is the project director for the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. He worked as a contractor to NASA for thirty-three years in a variety of engineering and management roles.


"Chris Petty's Beyond Blue Skies: The Rocket Plane Programs That Led to the Space Age transports readers to Edwards Air Force Base, where, from 1946 to 1975, experimental rocket planes carried engineers' knowledge to higher altitudes and into the supersonic and hypersonic realms. . . . Any reader interested in the history of aviation and space programs will enjoy learning how they made it all work."—Kevin Castro, H-Environment

“Chris Petty has written a book that covers much of the unheralded research into high-speed flight that helped set the stage for human spaceflight. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the early history of rocket flight.”—Al Worden, command module pilot for Apollo 15

Beyond Blue Skies captures the period, the place, and best of all the people who made the rocket-plane era at Edwards so successful, providing a solid basis for the space shuttle. Chris Petty has captured our soul.”—Robert W. Kempel, retired experimental flight research engineer

Beyond Blue Skies is a deeply researched and thoughtful history of the X-planes that flew across the skies of California’s High Desert between 1946 and the 1970s. While rich in detail, it is approachable by the general reader and will prove to be as engaging as the exploits of the daring pilots who continually ‘pushed the envelope.’ Chris Petty’s new book capably fills a gap in the available literature, and for that reason along with its enjoyability, it deserves a place on your shelf.”—Rod Pyle, author, journalist, and editor in chief of Ad Astra magazine for the National Space Society

“Chris Petty takes us on an exciting journey further than the usual treatments on this subject. He provides unique, personal accounts and rare insights from the engineers and technicians who built, modified, maintained, and controlled the most advanced research aircraft and their milestone flights. These stories are an essential addition to chronicling the remarkable achievements of the pioneering test pilots.”—Col. Mark Pestana, NASA research pilot

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Abbreviations and Definitions
Part 1. Breaking Barriers
1. A New Breed of Aircraft
2. Like a Speeding Bullet
3. A New Pretender
4. The Race to Mach 2
5. Facing the Heat
6. The End of the Beginning
Part 2. America's First Spaceship
7. The Hypersonic Challenge
8. Higher and Faster
9. The Follow-On
10. Failure to Launch
Part 3. The Lifting Bodies
11. Look Ma, No Wings!
12. The Heavyweights
13. Racehorses and Unrealized Plans

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