This is an enlarged and updated book now published by Haynes and written by a leading aviation writer. Any aircraft book that has Bill Gunston as the author comes with solid authenticity. The author has a command of his subject from a lifetime of experience.
NAME: Faster Than Sound
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Bill Gunston
BINDING: Soft back
PRICE: GB £12.99
GENRE: Non fiction
SUBJECT: aviation, technology, hyper-sonic, sound barrier, area rule, trans-sonic, near-sonic, measurement.
DESCRIPTION: This is an enlarged and updated book now published by Haynes and written by a leading aviation writer. Any aircraft book that has Bill Gunston as the author comes with solid authenticity. The author has a command of his subject from a lifetime of experience. He demonstrates an ability to convey his understanding of a complex technology in a way that even a novice can take aboard. This is a rare and valuable ability. This book demonstrates the ability in one of the potentially confusing aspects of aviation. On land a vehicle can travel over the ground at a measured speed. The fastest vehicle may have taken vehicle technology to its current limits, but the speed measurement is a relatively simple matter of timing the vehicle over a measured distance on each of a number of runs. The average speed may be taken as the average of the best two attempts, or an average of each of a number of runs. The surface does not move and the air temperature, wind conditions and other variables may affect the maximum speed achieved, but do not affect the method of measurement. At sea matters become more complex because a vessel on speed trials is travelling across a fluid. The distance over ground/water may be very different from the actual distance travelled because the currents produce a similar affect to a motorized walkway, carrying the vessel away from or towards the destination, with the added possibility that the course is diagonally across any currents. In the air, the aircraft is travelling within a fluid environment that is three dimensional. It faces similar challenges to a ship in that wind is essentially similar in effect to the currents in water. At high altitudes jet streams are super fast winds that flow around the Southern and Northern Hemispheres in much the same way as the Trade Winds that significantly affected sailing ships. Where a vehicle on land or a ship at sea travel normally between two marked points for the purposes of speed trials, an aircraft could be flying at any altitude from near ground to high altitude on the edge of space. A distance marked on the ground will be shorter than the distance travelled at a higher altitude. Just to make life more interesting, air is not a constant density. In general terms, it becomes thinner as the altitude increases, but temperature can vary within a particular band of air at a specific altitude. Therefore, an aircraft may have to use more power for a given speed on one day than it did on the day before to travel the same distance in the same time. Once we consider speed in terms of the speed of sound, the speed at which sound travels varies. Gunston explains these complexities very well as he tells the story of high-speed flight. He also explains that the speed of an aircraft may be lower than the speed over parts of the aircraft wings and body. This is most dramatic in a helicopter that may fly over ground at a few hundred miles per hour, but the tips of the rotary wings are travelling at super-sonic speeds. Attempting to convey these concepts and realities in words and drawings is not easy for a novice audience or even for a technical audience. In this book the author has been able to work carefully and logically through all of the key points as he reviews aircraft development over a period of some seventy years. He tells of the successes and failures, explaining why some attempts at faster aircraft failed to meet expectations. Although much of the book is given to the story of flight within the atmosphere by aeroplanes, space travel is also covered. The American X-15 is more rocket than aeroplane and the Super Sonic Transport of which the beautiful Concorde is the ultimate functional expression and already in museums the first steps have been taken to produce space craft aeroplanes. The American Space Shuttle has reached the end of its operational life and is perhaps most accurately a space craft that becomes a glider for its return flight. Economics are driving the US to return to the large rocket and space capsule, but the space plane is struggling to lift off the drawing boards. Several designs are being promoted and Gunston reviews these and the engine that is part jet and part rocket. The US X series of research aircraft continue with a currently unmanned Shuttle-like spacecraft that launches on top of a rocket as a rapid launch system. The development of spacecraft is diversifying with the first commercial sub-orbital craft preparing for business and possibly opening a new chapter in super sonic passenger transportation. This is an excellent book that must be highly recommended and it has been produced well at a very affordable price. There are many excellent images, including full colour photographs and clear drawings to illustrate aerofoils and air flow.