The Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters


X is the designation given by the US Air Force to aircraft and rockets that are intended to test new technologies, including new aerodynamic concepts. These aircraft are usually operated by NASA, and usually at Edwards Air Force Base. Some are developed in secrecy.

What is an X-Plane?

These X-planes are not usually intended to go into service. Rather they have a purely experimental mission – hence the X. At the same time, it is worth pointing out that not all US experimental military aircraft are given the X moniker. Some have received US Navy designations, manufacturer’s designations or even classified codenames.

North American XB-70A Mach 3 strategic bomber prototype - US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons
North American XB-70A Mach 3 strategic bomber prototype – US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons
The story of US X-designated fighters and bombers is a fascinating one for aviation enthusiasts. Steve Pace, in his ambitious, handsome, 360 page book, has detailed every turbojet-powered US X-series fighter and bomber made since 1942. That feat is remarkable. When you thumb through the book you can only marvel at the effort he has made to collate all of this information.

It’s got it all

Northrop flying wings? Check. North American mach 3 XF-108 Rapier? Check. Classified programs like Have Doughnut, Have Blue and the mysterious F-19? Check, check and check. This is a wet-dream for hardcore aviation geeks. I can’t get enough of this stuff yet reading the book I still almost overdosed on the specificity, the data, the research and the detailed descriptions of the various test programs, companies and individuals involved.

North American Aviation F-108 artists illustration - Wikimedia Commons
North American Aviation F-108 artists illustration – Wikimedia Commons
If you want to be the aviation-trivia king or queen par-excellence at your next gathering of aeronautical enthusiasts, then you should go no further than the Big Book of X-Bombers and X-Fighters. The book has many rare photographs and illustrations and is deeply researched. Steve Pace is not the sort to slap together a book like this. It is a work of passion and dedication.

Who is this book for?

This book is for those who are fascinated by the bleeding edge of aviation technology and the advanced technology developmental arcs that have been pursued by the US military-industrial complex over the past 70 odd years. Such advances are hard won and only possible through persistence, personal sacrifice, unflinching government support, astounding quantities of money, a sense of unified national purpose and, regrettably on occasion, the loss of life.


  1. “Fire them up”
  2. Trials and Tribulations
  3. “Mores the Pity”
  4. Century Series
  5. Propulsive Systems
  6. Supersonic Wonders and Doublesonic Sensations
  7. Triplesonic Marvels
  8. Advancing the State of the Art
  9. Stealth Bombers and Fighters
  10. The Long Range Strike Bomber & Next Generation Air Dominance Fighter

Summing Up

This book has a clear focus on experimental aircraft and advanced technologies and because of that it would make an excellent companion to Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Right Stuff’, which takes a somewhat different tack on a similar subject.

That book provides a look at the very human stories of the pilots involved in US post-war research into high speed aircraft, their backgrounds, mental and physical characteristics and personal journeys.

US Air Force photo to the DARPA / Lockheed Martin Have Blue prototype - US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons
US Air Force photo to the DARPA / Lockheed Martin Have Blue prototype – US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

More Book Reviews

You can read more of my aviation book reviews here.

The Book

This book is shown below, along with by a number of similar books or products you might like. If you appreciate my efforts here at The Air Show, please consider using these links for your purchase. It won’t cost you a cent more than buying direct at Amazon. Thanks!

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Steve is the editor-at-large and publisher of The Air Show. He is responsible for many of our articles, and our podcasts, videos, social media feeds and newsletter. He welcomes comments and contributions from aviators and enthusiasts alike.


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