Glen Edwards: The Diary of a Bomber Pilot by Dan Ford. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998. 224 pp, b&w photos, $24.95 (hardcover).
"Darnedest airplane I ever tried to do anything with. Quite uncontrollable at times," wrote Glen Edwards after a particularly hairy outing in the Northrop YB-49 flying wing--the aircraft that would soon take his life.
Diary of a Bomber Pilot is the account of the man whose name is forever attached to test flying in the high desert of California. Edwards' simple, gentlemanly manner is nicely complemented by Dan Ford's research and interviews with surviving family and colleagues.
Edwards' diary started on June 13, 1941, as he began flight training at Cal Aero Academy, a civilian company in Chino, California, that trained fliers for the Army. His entries over the following two years outlined his combat missions in North Africa and Italy.
By 1944, Edwards was at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, where he embarked on his career as a test pilot--the start of a journey that would lead him to Muroc Army Air Field in California, home to a new generation of jet and rocket-propelled aircraft. In 1950, that desolate place would be renamed Edwards Air Force Base, or more simply "Edwards."
Ford's commentary is an unobtrusive and welcome voice throughout. We learn the complexities behind Edwards' understated contention that the YB-49 Flying Wing was a handful, most notably in its frightening stall behavior: The aircraft would give no buffet or vibration, the nose would rise, and the Wing would become immune to all control inputs as it went vertical and rotated backwards like a pinwheel. Earlier, Bob Cardenas and Danny Forbes (the namesake of Forbes Air Force Base in Kansas) had encountered this terrifying tendency while stalling the YB-49 at 40,000 feet and took nearly ever foot of that altitude to recover the aircraft. On the day Edwards and four crewmen died while stalling the big wing at just 15,000 feet, the margin was too thin for survival.
After the reader sweats Edwards' combat missions, Stateside romances, and everyday problems, the experience of reading his final entry, written three days before his death, is chilling. But throughout, the words of Edwards and Ford combine into a fascinating tale and a tribute to an unassuming man who simply loved to fly.
--John Sotham is an associate editor at Air & Space.
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