Sidewinder: Creative Missile Development at China Lake

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Overview

In the mid-1950s a small group of overworked, underpaid scientists and engineers on a remote base in the Mojave Desert developed a weapon no one had asked for but everyone was looking for. This is the story of how that unorthodox team, led by visionary Bill McLean, overcame Navy bureaucracy and other more heavily funded projects to develop the world's best air-to-air missile. Author Ron Westrum examines that special time and place<\#209>when the old American work ethic and "can do" spirit were a vital part ...
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Overview

In the mid-1950s a small group of overworked, underpaid scientists and engineers on a remote base in the Mojave Desert developed a weapon no one had asked for but everyone was looking for. This is the story of how that unorthodox team, led by visionary Bill McLean, overcame Navy bureaucracy and other more heavily funded projects to develop the world's best air-to-air missile. Author Ron Westrum examines that special time and place<\#209>when the old American work ethic and "can do" spirit were a vital part of U.S. weapons development<\#209>to discover how the dedicated team was able to create a simple and inexpensive missile. Today, some forty-four years after its invention, Sidewinder is still considered the best America has.

The result of twelve years of research, including hundreds of interviews, Westrum's study examines this unique military-civilian cult of creativity. McLean and his China Lake team produced an amazing array of technological and engineering marvels. Their powerful insights were coupled with outrageous creativity. In the intellectual pressure cooker provided by the isolation of the desert, the scientists dreamed and tinkered while test pilots such as Wally Schirra and Glenn Tierney took to the air, often risking life and limb to test the fledgling system. Westrum captures the guiding vision of McLean, the Caltech-trained physicist who intended to visit China Lake for two months but stayed for twenty-three years. An expert in group dynamics, the author shows why the team succeeded. He reduces arcane missile techno-babble to language both the specialist and lay reader will appreciate and enjoy, and he offers lessons useful for leaders and managers in and out of uniform.

In a time of billion-dollar weapons development contracts, astronomical cost overruns, and defense acquisitions scandals, this revealing, highly readable tale about one of the most successful weapons in history should be of interest to everyone concerned about national security.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781557509512
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/1999
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.25 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author


Ron Westrum is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Eastern Michigan University and Professor II of Society and Risk at the University of Stavanger, Norway. He has published two books and many articles on complex organizations, corporate culture, innovation, and systems safety. He has presented many papers to national and international meetings on aerospace, medical, and nuclear safety. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface
1 The Weapon Nobody Asked For 1
2 The Gadgeteer 5
3 The Problem Takes Shape 16
4 The Wrong Laboratory 36
5 Struggles with Infrared 47
6 The Weapons Shop 62
7 Systems Engineering 74
8 The Painted Bird 93
9 Crunch Time 108
10 To the Fleet 120
11 Selling the Air Force 133
12 High-Altitude Testing 145
13 The Creative Dialogue 162
14 Early Generations 170
15 Later Generations 190
16 In Combat 207
17 Building People at China Lake 220
18 Building Ideas at China Lake 240
19 The Past and Future Laboratory 254
Notes 275
Index 317
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2000

    Most interesting book

    This book was a very good insight into the development of one of the most famous missiles ever. Highly recommended to anyone who has an interest in missiles and rocketry.

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