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X-Plane Crashes

Exploring Experimental, Rocket Plane and Spycraft Incidents, Accidents and Crash Sites

By John Lester - images & text © 2008

Type: Hardcover, 160pp, 289 photos, ISBN: ISBN 158007121X, by Peter W. Merlin and Tony Moore

MSRP: $29.95 USD (~$35.85 CAN/€ 21.17 EUR) available from Specialty Press

Overall Rating: 9 - a treasure trove of visual reference

Before there were banks of supercomputers the only way to see how an aircraft would perform was to take it up and push it to its limits. All too often this resulted in aircraft 'departing controlled flight' and crashing. Over the years groups of people have become interested in these crashes, researching the events and why they happened, and traveling all over find the places the crashes occurred.

[Cover art]

Authors Peter W. Merlin and Tony Moore, known as the "X-Hunters," have located more than 100 crash sites of X-plane and “black project” aircraft, primarily in the California/Nevada Hi-Desert around Edwards Air Force Base and Groom Lake. Together, they have recovered parts of supersonic rocket planes, stealthy spy craft, and vehicles that have reached the edge of space.

The result is a 160 page hardcover book with almost 300 photos (black/white and color).

The book is broken into 9 chapters plus supporting sections:

  • Preface: The X-Hunters - The story of how the authors met and began their searches
  • Introduction:X-Planes, Edwards, and Aerospace Technology - An overview of US military flight testing, the main test base at Edwards, and the people and procedures used by 'aerospace archeology'.
  • Chapter 1: How Edwards Got Its Name -- Northrop's Flying Wings (N9M, XB-35 and YB-49)
  • Chapter 2: Toward the Unknown -- X-1, X-2 and X-15
  • Chapter 3: The First of the Legends - XP-80, YF4H-1
  • Chapter 4: The Blackest Day in the History of Edwards - the crash of the XB-70
  • Chapter 5: The Real Right Stuff - F-100 Zero-Length Launch and NF-104A
  • Chapter 6: Into The Black - U-2, A-12/Article 123, Article 501/D-21, YF-12 and F-117A
  • Chapter 7: Drama, Tragedy and Comedy - XF-11, P-61C, X-10, XB-51 and runaway F6F Drone

  • Appendix 1: Muroc/Edwards Crash List
  • Appendix 2: Watertown/Area 51 Crash List

Acknowledgments and Author Biographies round out the text.

Each chapter in the book tells the story of an aircraft or several related programs, the men who flew them, and the accidents that claimed aircraft and sometimes their crew. The causes of each accident are discussed using official reports and eyewitness testimony. Each incident is followed by the authors search for the crash site and what they were able to discover.

Each incident discussed is supported by images of the aircraft, crew and when possible, footage from the accidents and their aftermaths. Pictures of the crash sites (then and now, when possible) and any debris recovered are also presented.

The Appendicies list every aircraft crash - at least those resulting in major damage or loss of the airframe that are not still classified - at the two primary military/black ops test facilities. It's a surprisingly, and soberingly, long list in both cases.


As a history of aviation/aerospace testing, this book is hard to beat. It's detailed, well-written and well-illustrated. The authors have a passion for the subject (Peter W. Merlin is an archivist and historian at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center and Tony Moore is a museum assistant at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base) and it comes through with lively and engrossing stories. Though many of the photographs of the aircraft (pre-crash, anyway) are available elsewhere, there is still a lot that will be of interest to scale modelers (I was particularly intrigued by the F-100 Zero-Length Launch (ZEL) section).


Many thanks to Specialty Press for providing the review copy. Manufacturers and retailers, interested in getting your wares reviewed and publicized on a site averaging 6000+ readers a day? Contact us!

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the reviewer.
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This page copyright © 2008 Starship Modeler™. First posted on 16 December 2008.