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High-Speed Dreams

NASA and the Technopolitics of Supersonic Transportation, 1945–1999

Erik M. Conway

Publication Year: 2005

In High-Speed Dreams, Erik M. Conway constructs an insightful history that focuses primarily on the political and commercial factors responsible for the rise and fall of American supersonic transport research programs. Conway charts commercial supersonic research efforts through the changing relationships between international and domestic politicians, military/NASA contractors, private investors, and environmentalists. He documents post-World War II efforts at the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics and the Defense Department to generate supersonic flight technologies, the attempts to commercialize these technologies by Britain and the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, environmental campaigns against SST technology in the 1970s, and subsequent attempts to revitalize supersonic technology at the end of the century. High-Speed Dreams is a sophisticated study of politics, economics, nationalism, and the global pursuit of progress. Historians, along with participants in current aerospace research programs, will gain valuable perspective on the interaction of politics and technology.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: New Series in NASA History

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

This book grew out of a contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Langley Research Center, which has been my home since August 1999. I moved from a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., to Langley after the original awardee, Deborah G. Douglas, left Langley to become curator at...

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pp. xi-xiii

In writing this book, I have been aided by many people who gave willingly of their time and effort. The readers of the manuscript made the largest sacrifices and were the greatest aid to me: NASA Chief Historian Roger Launius and his assistant, Stephen Garber; Langley Chief Scientist Dennis Bushnell; retired Boeing program managers...

List of Abbreviations Used in the Text

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pp. xv-xvii

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pp. 1-13

This book is a history of American attempts to design and build a “supersonic transport,” or SST, an airliner capable of flying faster than the speed of sound. Technologically, SSTs have been possible since the late 1950s, and the United States government has tried three times to foster one. In 1963, the Kennedy administration approved...

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1. Constructing the Supersonic Age

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pp. 14-47

World War II witnessed the introduction of two key technologies that promised to revolutionize air transportation in the postwar period, the turbojet engine and the swept wing. Both of these permitted substantial increases in aircraft speed. Even before war’s end, the U.S. Army Air Forces and the National Advisory Committee for...

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2. Technological Rivalry and the Cold War

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pp. 48-81

In the United States, SST enthusiasm had emanated largely from the airframe manufacturers, which had instituted small SST study programs following the U.S. Air Force’s decision to reorient the WS-110A program toward a supersonic cruise aircraft. These efforts were confined to aerodynamic and materials research, and involved fewer...

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3. Engineering the National Champion

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pp. 82-117

The American SST program began with a government-run design competition patterned after U.S. Air Force procurement procedures. In the first phase, the manufacturers would work up “brochure” airplanes that they would submit to the FAA for evaluation by a FAA/NASA/ DOD team. At the end of this “Phase I” competition in...

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4. Of Noise, Jumbos, and SSTs

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pp. 118-156

There had always been opponents of the SST. Treasury officials in Britain, Robert McNamara in the United States, and Ian McDonald, head of the International Air Transport Association, had all opposed the race to the SST on primarily economic grounds. Similarly, conservative publications such as New York’s Wall Street Journal and...

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5. Of Ozone, the Concorde, and SSTs

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pp. 157-188

A few days after the May 1971 SST restart movement ran aground, President Nixon wrote to his principal domestic policy assistant, John Ehrlichman, about other avenues that the United States could pursue toward a new SST development program. Nixon was concerned about the threat posed to American leadership in aeronautical...

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6. The Airbus, the Orient Express, and the Renaissance of Speed

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pp. 189-223

The cancellation of the SCAR program in 1981 was a reflection of the general state of NASA’s aeronautics program in the early 1980s. The Shuttle’s overruns had led to termination of several other aircraft and rotorcraft-related projects in 1981, and several surviving projects, such as the Aircraft Energy Efficiency project, were scheduled to...

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7. Toward a Green SST

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pp. 224-258

The new “High Speed Research” program that Congress had approved in 1990 was the product of three years’ work by advocates in NASA and in the aircraft industry. The first step in the process of constructing the program had been the study contracts Boeing and Mc-Donald-Douglas had conducted. Put together by Neil Driver...

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8. Sic Transit HSCT

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pp. 259-300

The HSR program’s Phase II differed from Phase I substantially. The largest change was in focus. Whereas Phase I had concentrated on resolving environmental concerns, Phase II’s mission was to address the problem of economic viability. Phase II’s goal was to create the technologies necessary to permit a post-2000 HSCT to be competitive...

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pp. 301-306

The supersonic era finally came to an end in October 2003 with the retirement of the Anglo-French Concordes. After a dramatic, fatal, and televised crash in Paris in 2000, several subsequent nonfatal (but well-publicized) incidents of flutter damage to the aircrafts’ vertical stabilizers, and the terrorist attacks in Concorde’s only destination...


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pp. 307-352

Essay on Sources

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pp. 353-358


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pp. 359-369

E-ISBN-13: 9781421410432
E-ISBN-10: 1421410435
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801890819
Print-ISBN-10: 0801890810

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 12 halftones, 10 line drawings
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: New Series in NASA History