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Lockheed XF-90: Penetration Fighter  by William J. Simone, Ginter Books, 2020, $39.95.

The period from 1945 through 1960 saw a proliferation of diverse and exotic aircraft designs. Among the most memorable and influential, if not successful, was the Lockheed XF-90. Widely publicized both by Lockheed and Westinghouse, which supplied its engines, the XF-90 exerted an impact on American popular culture far beyond what might be expected from an airplane that never advanced beyond the mere two prototypes built. Many of the automotive styling cues of the 1950s such as bulging scoops, sweeping tailfins and bulbous bullet fairings can be traced to the XF-90. During the 1950s Oldsmobile even featured a stylized XF-90 as a hood ornament. 

Ironically, although the XF-90 captured the public imagination, it failed to impress its prospective customer, the U.S Air Force. Designed to satisfy a very demanding requirement for a “penetration fighter,” it was intended for long-range missions over enemy territory in support of bombers. Due to the need to accommodate a large amount of fuel, the resulting fighters inevitably proved excessively large, heavy and slow. As a result, all of the prospective penetration fighters were rejected and the requirement was cancelled.

Lockheed XF-90 Penetration Fighter includes extensive information about the development and testing of the XF-90 as well as its two competitors, the McDonnell XF-88 Voodoo and the North American YF-93. It also describes the XF-90’s subsequent use as a target, during which it demonstrated its structural integrity by surviving no less than three nuclear bomb blasts. Part of the “Air Force Legends” series, this book offers a window into a fascinating era of aircraft development and an airplane that once seemed a harbinger of the future. 


This review appeared in the January 2021 issue of Aviation History. For more great reading, subscribe and click here!