Review: From RAINBOW to GUSTO: Stealth and the Design of the Lockheed Blackbird

Just to get my bias on the table, the author, Paul Suhler, is a friend of mine.  He’s a technical fellow and a fellow pilot, so he’s got the background to understand how the stealth technology of the Blackbird was created.  He’s also a meticulous researcher and a clear writer, which results in this engaging and informative book.

Suhler’s tracing the development of stealth technology and its application to what became the Blackbird through several hidden CIA projects. He’s amassed a remarkable collection of interviews and documents from an extremely secretive set of people.  The result is an enlightening view into how stealth became a priority due to competition and some government arm-twisting.  Evidently Lockheed was only minimally interested in the stealth side of things, and the CIA brought Convair in at least partially because they were ahead in that area.  Convair also had a fascinating 2-vehicle approach that contrasted with the final designs.

Through the entire narrative, Suhler focuses on the technologies and ideas in competition, rather than on the personalities of the people driving them.  The people’s personalities are mentioned when relevant, but overall the focus is on how they marshal the ideas and how the CIA evaluates and influences the designs.  It’s a look into a design process that few people get to see.  Despite putting people somewhat out of the spotlight, it makes for diverting and informative reading.


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