This book review is again not for a new book, but for a book printed many years ago. The famous Douglas test pilot Bill Bridgeman put his experiences with the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket together in a book that he wrote with the assistance of his wife. Bridgman, born in 1916, was during the second world war a navy pilot flying heavy bombers. After the war, he flew for a while as an airline pilot on a DC-3 before he joined Douglas Aircraft Company as a test pilot for production aircraft. Here, he tested the AD-1 Skyraider.

At the early fifties, Douglas had a very advanced jet and rocket powered research plane under test at Muroc air base. Here, a team of Douglas engineers tested this plane, the D-558-II Skyrocket, under a U.S. Navy contract for the NACA. When their test pilot Gene May declined flying this research plane any longer. Bridgeman was asked to take over, although he had no experience at all on jet planes. For this purpose, Brideman made a number of flights in an F-80 Shooting Star and further he tried to learn as much as possible on the technical and aerodynamical sides of flight-testing such advanced types. He learned fast, and made soon flights from Muroc with the Skyrocket that, as he vividly describes, had to be handled with respect and great care at all times.

Test pilot Bill Bridgeman book

Later, he also flew the all-rocket version of the Skyrocket after being launched from a B-29 bomber. Bridgeman gave in his book an excellent and fascinating description of his daily experiences in a simple to read and easy to understand style and at his flight stories, you almost sit next to him!

This ‘must read’ book was printed in 1955 for the first time, but later it was reprinted several times by various publishers. The review copy was published as a hard-cover edition by Henry Holt, but it was also printed as a low-priced paperback. Even today, it is not difficult to get a copy of this book on the second hand book market and prices are very affordable varying from just 1 or 2 EURO for the pocket version to 10-15 EURO for the hard-cover.

This copy is from the inventory of the AVIODROME Theme Museum second-hand bookshop (that I run 2 days a week!) at Lelystad Airport, the Netherlands. Although this book carries the markings and stamps of the Netherlands Aerospace Library ‘N.B.L.R.’ it is in very good condition.
In case someone out there is interested: just contact me and the book can be yours for a modest 8 EURO + P&P!

Book Details:

Title: The Lonely Sky
Authors: Bill Bridgeman and Jaqualine Hazard
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co., Inc. – New York
Type: Hardcover, 15 x 22 cm. 316 pages including a photo page section with 15 B&W photos.
ISBN: Not given, Library of Congress no. is 54-10518
Published: May 1955


Bridgeman gained quite a lot of fame when he tested the Skyrocket, setting altitude records, and he appeared on a cover of Life magazine in 1951 as the latest “The Fastest Man Alive”. He later left Douglas and flew flying boats on the run from Long Beach to Catalina Island off Los Angeles. Alone on one of these flights, he crashed with a Grumman G-21 Goose amphibian into the ocean, on 29 September 1968, and was killed instantly. A tragic end for a great pilot!

Nico Braas