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From the air

title or description
The B-58

title or description
The XB-70

When I was a kid, I used to go to our public library once or twice a week. It was a great building, a Carnegie library, with all sorts of ornate architectural features. The children’s room was on the second floor.

I was a sucker for two kinds of books. One of them was the “Childhoods of Famous Americans” series, which I suspect were largely fictitious accounts of the younger days of famous people ranging from the Founders to Babe Ruth to Albert Einstein. These books never mentioned that the more contemporary figures in the series—Einstein, Ruth—were dead, probably to avoid stomping on their young readers’ tender sensibilities.

The other books I liked were about military aircraft, I suspect because about two hours north of here, in Niagara Falls, an Air Force base kept the skies filled with fighters and bombers when I was a kid. The fighters were generally F-100s or occasional F-4s; the bombers were always B-52s. Often they would fly overhead while refueling, with a fighter pilot gently jockeying for refueling position just behind and under the KC-135 tanker planes.

Through the aircraft books, I knew a lot of the other planes in service at the time, although I never saw most of them in the skies above my hometown. I was particularly disappointed to never see a B-58, a delta-winged bomber capable of flying 1,300 mph.

The last page in one of those books was reserved for a mammoth bomber that had not been built: the B-70. It was supposed to be able to fly at 2,000 mph at altitudes of over 70,000 feet, but improvements in air defenses made the plane obsolete before it was ever built. It was the coolest-looking airplane ever: picture a muscled-up Concorde.

The book estimated how high the plane would fly, how fast, and when it would be put into production. I remember reading it and thinking that 1970 was a long way into the future but even so, it would be an exciting year because of the B-70.

Eventually, only two of the planes were built. One crashed. And I look back and can’t remember very much at all about the boy reading those books about airplanes.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 3rd, 2013 05:34 am (UTC)
"Childhoods of Famous Americans"! I loved that.
I was severely disappointed when I found out that actually Narcissa Whitman despised the Indians she was trying to convert.
Jan. 3rd, 2013 03:21 pm (UTC)
I suspect a lot of whitewashing of the characters went on.
Jan. 3rd, 2013 05:44 am (UTC)
Oh my goodness. I found this link

And apparently there are many books in that series I never saw, and with the most improbable titles. "Bedford Forrest:Horseback Boy," "William Penn: Friendly Boy"...
Jan. 3rd, 2013 03:20 pm (UTC)
Wow. I quit reading those books when I got my library card for the adult section, but for sure they kept on writing them.
Jan. 5th, 2013 10:29 pm (UTC)
And I look back and can’t remember very much at all about the boy reading those books about airplanes. I hear you there. I loved those biography books too, and didn't realize the ones our boys had (with the red white and blue covers) were part of the series from my long-ago childhood.
Jan. 5th, 2013 11:32 pm (UTC)
A couple of friends and I had lunch yesterday and talked about what age we'd like to return to if it was possible. My answer was second through fifth grades. That's when I used to walk the 13 blocks to the library and bring home an armload of those books.

I still remember a line from one of them. I can't recall the boy (it always was a boy) being profiled, but at one point in the story, a Quaker was going to visit the boy's home, and his sister asked, "A Quaker? Will he quake at us?"

There's no explaining memory.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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