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Expanding the Envelope is the first book to explore the full panorama of flight research history, from the earliest attempts by such nineteenth century practitioners as England’s Sir George Cayley, who tested his kites and gliders by subjecting them to experimental flight, to the cutting-edge aeronautical research conducted by the NACA and NASA.

Michael H. Gorn explores the vital human aspect of the history of flight research, including such well-known figures as James H. Doolittle, Chuck Yeager, and A. Scott Crossfield, as well as the less heralded engineers, pilots, and scientists who also had the “Right Stuff.” While the individuals in the cockpit often receive the lion’s share of the public’s attention, Expanding the Envelope shows flight research to be a collaborative engineering activity, one in which the pilot participates as just one of many team members.

Here is more than a century of flight research, from well before the creation of NACA to its rapid transformation under NASA. Gorn gives a behind the scenes look at the development of groundbreaking vehicles such as the X-1, the D-558, and the X-15, which demonstrated manned flight at speeds up to Mach 6.7 and as high as the edge of space.

Winner, 2004 Gardner-Lasser Aerospace History Literature Award given by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Michael H. Gorn, historian with the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, is the author of The Universal Man: Theodore von Karman's Life in Aeronautics.

“While NASA means space flight to the general public, this book well illustrates the sterling aeronautical work of the Flight Research Center."—Air Power History

“Well-written and beautifully researched, the in-depth study is a must-read for the flight test aficionado, aviation historian, and general enthusiast as well."—Airpower

“Gorn has written a valuable book about flight testing."—Almanac of Seapower

“Recommended for all readers curious about the development of government-funded US civilian flight research."—Choice

“A very solid and original work. It is extremely well researched, adding new information and perspective derived from hitherto unexamined or unappreciated archival sources. More specialized work in the history of NACA/NASA flight research will undoubtedly result from the influence of this book."—James Hanson

“A welcome revisiting of flight research at NASA."—Public Historian

“A terrific addition to the collection of NACA and NASA histories as well as to the literature of twentieth-century science and technology."—Technology and Culture

“A work of profound and original scholarship by a historian who is a master in his field. It is effectively organized, well-written, and moves deftly and smoothly in such a way as to cover an enormous amount of material. Gorn has chosen a very broad canvas and achieved a stunningly successful result. This is an excellent book."—W. David Lewis

"Captures it all—the Wright brothers, World War II, Chuck Yeager’s historic flight—all written in Gorn’s easy-to-read style. Expanding the Envelope will be a reference text for historians—and some real pleasure reading for aviation enthusiasts."—William H. Dana

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






NASA, NACA, Aeronautics, Flight research


History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

Expanding the Envelope: Flight Research at NACA and NASA
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