This book pulls back the curtain on America’s MQ-1 Predator “drone” program and the people who operate it. LCOL McCurley was a U.S. Air Force instructor pilot who volunteered for transfer to the Predator program after the 9/11 attacks. The transfer was not a normal request, the program was not a popular assignment within the USAF – “real” pilots flew fighters, and the Predator had become a dumping ground for officers who didn’t qualify for other assignments.
The term “drone”, though widely used in the press, is inaccurate. A drone is an automatous vehicle, programmed to perform its mission without human intervention. The U.S. Navy’s XM-47B is an example. The MQ-1 Predator and its larger cousin, the MQ-9 Reaper, are more accurately described as Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), flown by a pilot and a sensor operator on the ground. The crew is linked to the aircraft via satellite and can be physically located anywhere in the world. RPVs operating over Afghanistan are routinely piloted by crews within the U.S.
One revelation for me was that it takes two separate crews to fly a mission – one where the aircraft is physically based to launch and recover the aircraft and one to fly the mission. Many missions are flown in shifts due to the duration. The crews operate under similar rules of engagement as any other U.S. unit. Strike missions which eliminate high-value terrorist targets grab the headlines, but these are usually supported by weeks of routine 24/7 surveillance missions to establish the target’s patterns and minimize collateral damage.
The book is written from the first-person perspective and follows LCOL McCurley’s career in the RPV community. It is an interesting insight into one of the USAF’s most-used platforms, and corrects many popular misconceptions. It is an enjoyable read and an engaging story which I can recommend.
Paperback, 96 pages, heavily illustrated, 30 color profiles
Published by Osprey Publishing October 2019
Dimensions: 7.1 x 0.3 x 9.8 inches
Unlike the vast majority of volumes in Osprey’s Combat Aircraft Series and despite the title, B-58 Hustler Units has very little to do with the units and more to do with the design of the aircraft.
The first chapter deals with the history and development of the delta wing planform in general. This traces the history back to the work of Alexander Lippisch and the many subsequent American designs that used this configuration. It was nice to see Richard Whitcomb’s discovery of the Area Rule phenomenon give recognition as well.
The next few chapters discuss the design of the Convair B-58 and describe in detail the specific systems incorporated into the aircraft. The design of the novel fuel / payload pod is a unique solution to the aircraft’s lack of internal volume. The discussion of the problems of crew ejection at supersonic speeds and the development of the cramped capsules to deal with the issue are enlightening.
It is not until approximately two-thirds of the way through the book that we see the first B-58s assigned to SAC Bomb Wings. Even there, much of the writing is concerned with describing SAC’s strategic plans and operating procedures.
The B-58 Hustler served in relatively small numbers and was operational for less than a decade. No B-58 ever saw combat, so it is not surprising that the setting of various speed records constitutes the most notable incidents in the type’s history. Personally, I enjoy reading about the technical issues the engineering teams had to solve to get the aircraft into service. Don’t be misled by the title however, the book has much more to do with the design and operational doctrine of the aircraft than a history of the units which flew them. Still very interesting and a good read.