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Lightning Bolts Perfect Paperback – April 6, 2010
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Another serious problem is that whenever the author discusses other aerospace projects, his facts are often wildly wrong. On p. 167-8 alone there are 4 major errors:
- the DC-X was not part of a NASA manned Mars landing program but developed by the Strategic Defense Initiative Office
- it was not in competition with X-33
- it was steered with 4 body flaps, not three fins
- it was not the basis of a MacDac proposal for the space shuttle (developed 20 years earlier!)
When I see factual errors and confusion like this on a subject I know a lot about, I question the reliability of an author in other areas.
The memoir aspect of Yengst's book is interesting; the detailing of events, people and activities in an ex post facto state can be difficult. I applaud his efforts to "write it down," as his wife and children encouraged him to do. As for complaints on the technically accurate details, I am less formal on these. Unless you are an inept (or lazy) spy looking for details on U.S. re-entry vehicles (easily taken from Wikipedia, as Yengst did), this book offers enough starting points in which to search for more information elsewhere (i.e. US Air Force records on ABRES and ICBM RVs, Army records on Pershing II).
Stories such as these are a vital part of the mythology surrounding the United States' military-industrial complex so prevalent during the Cold War. Participants in these program, such as William Yengst, are disappearing every day. It is important that their stories are recorded for others to experience, and draw inspiration from.
some of the missile tests as being from Air Force records, but judging from the references at the back and from the values he quotes, he actually got them from the Astronautix web site, who got them from the guesstimates on my own web site. Sorry about that - they were based on reasonable inference like documented typical flight profiles for the type of missile, but they are ultimately guesses and in some cases are invalidated by other information in Yengst's book. Also, the details of the MARCAS Athena flights seem inconsistent with other declassified records of Athena (he ties them to missions that in other records are designated W-2, H-2 and AB-2, implying three unrelated projects; also
C049 flew 1967 Mar 30, not May 5). So the historian should be careful about relying on some of the details, but this does not detract from the overall interest: the book helped me understand what was special about MBRV and BGRV, and how they differed from each other.Read more ›
Of special note were the nuggets including the description of internal details of reentry vehicles, size and weight of nuclear weapons, the Chinese DF-21D MARV, aurora hypersonic spy plane, earth penetrating warheads which in tests went through 184 feet concrete and steel.
The problem with the book is it’s hard to tell where his personal knowledge of the programs (other than the ones he worked on) starts and his speculation begins. To escape breaking security, authors often use references to open source literature to talk about code word classified projects - but that means it's hard to tell if the author is trying to provide a declassified paper trail, or simply isn't knowledgable. Given Yengst's background I would tend to bet that he may have been read-in to some of these other programs, but as others point out the gaffe about the DC-X makes me wonder.
Still, a great addition to the cold war history technology shelf.