The aerospace industry has been essentially a "black box" little understood and magical in operation. Historians of flight tend to concentrate on invention, research and development, test and evaluation, and the details of military or civil operations. Accordingly, there are good histories of the development of certain aircraft, such as the F-4, and good histories of its use as an instrument of air power in the American military. There is a failure, however, to explore and understand what really took place on the shop floor of McDonnell Aircraft Corporation as it built the F-4 fighter.
Roger Bilstein, retired from the University of Houston-Clear Lake, pulls back the curtain on this process in "The Enterprise of Flight" and offers an outstanding overview of a whole industry. He traces its rise from the first companies that designed and built canvas and wooden biplanes in the first part of the twentieth century to the behemoths that dominate the industry at the beginning of the twenty-first century. All the household corporate names in the community are discussed--Boeing, North American, Consolidated, McDonnell, Douglas, Martin, Curtis, Wright--as well as the tycoons that made this industry arise in the United States.
Bilstein also traces the many entrances and exits, mergers and corporate takeovers that have changed the landscape of the industry since the Wrights first flew on the beach at Kitty Hawk in December 1903.
Taking center stage in this synthesis, which is by far the best overview available on the subject, are the twin events of World War II and the Cold War. Both energized the industry as nothing has before or since. The United States military realized early on that while air power did not assure victory, its absence could assure defeat. Accordingly, government investment in the technology of flight has been both significant and persistent. Bilstein does an excellent job telling this story with grace and insight.
This paperback is a reprint of Bilstein's "The American Aerospace Industry: From Workshop to Global Enterprise," published by Twayne Publishers in 1996, but now out of print. This reprint edition, as well as the 1996 version, are outstanding and may be read profitably both by scholars and those with a general interest.