Harnessing the Sky

Frederick "Trap" Trapnell, the U.S. Navy's Aviation Pioneer, 1923-1952
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Binding:Hardback
Published:July 15, 2015

Harnessing the Sky is one of the last untold stories in 100 years of naval aviation. Th is biography of Vice Adm. Frederick M. Trapnell explores the legacy of the man who has been called “the godfather of current naval aviation.”

A pilot of calculated courage, “Trap” entered the Navy when test pilots were more like stuntmen than engineers. Airplanes had not yet come into their own as weapons of war, and they had an undeveloped role in the fleet. His vision and leadership shaped the evolution of naval aviation through its formative years and beyond.

When the threat of war in 1940 raised an alarm over the Navy’s deficiency in aircraft—especially fighters—Trap was appointed to lead the Flight Test Section to direct the development of all new Navy airplanes. He played a key role in expediting the evolution of the two superb fighters that came to dominate the air war against Japan—the Corsair and Hellcat.

After World War II, Trap returned as commander of the Naval Air Test Center to lead the Navy through the challenges of transitioning to jets. Trap was not only the first U.S. Navy pilot to fly a jet, but is also recognized for defining the operating requirements for carrier-based jet propelled aircraft.

Over the course of two decades, Trap tested virtually every naval aircraft prototype and pioneered the philosophy and the methods of the engineering test pilot. He demanded comprehensive testing of each airplane in conditions and maneuvers it would face in wartime fleet operations. These innovations kept the Navy at the forefront of modern aviation, and stand as an enduring legacy to the man who is regarded as the foremost test pilot in a century of naval aviation.

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Product Details
  • Hardback : 288 pages
  • Illustrations: 37 b/w photos
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (July 15, 2015)
  • ISBN-10: 1612518486
  • ISBN-13: 9781612518480
  • Product Dimensions: 6 X 9 in
  • Shipping Weight: 19.2 oz
Praise
  • “The book is concise, thoroughly researched and well written with excellent descriptions of aircraft performance and handling qualities, as well as covering the wider service and industry context. It also includes a rich and interesting set of notes with numerous options for further reading. Overall, it is perfectly balanced for an entertaining and informative read for pilots, test pilots, aircraft designers, historians and particularly new aircraft programme managers.”—Aerospace (UK)
  • The Three Musketeers of the Army Air Forces is a wonderful book to read for a look into the lives of the men who flew into history on that fateful day. By presenting a narrative of the crew members' entire lives, Harder helps the reader identify with the men on a more personal level. Furthermore, this technique reveals how the crew handled the pressure, thus letting the reader walk away with an appreciation for what they really did. At the end of the day, this book is a great read for anyone who wants get a better picture of the individuals who flew those fateful missions and of how they created the world's first nuclear combat unit.”—Air and Space Power Journal
  • “In all the years I have been following aviation, only a few of the early pilots in my library were Navy. So I eagerly read Harnessing the Sky about Frederick M. ‘Trap’ Trapnell's incredible experiences in test flight in the 1930s and 1940s. Since the book was written by family members, I expected more sentimentality than most biographies. However, while the tone was warm and the book was definitely an easy read, it was well-researched and competently indexed. It covered not only the man but also his era and will make an excellent source for other historians. Military uses for aircraft were identified during World War I, only a few years into the era of flight. Ensign Trap was assigned to the USS Marblehead when he saw the potential for airplanes to support the Navy's most basic missions. As a result, he volunteered for flight in 1924, just as airplanes were beginning to be viewed as weapons. Aircraft carriers came of age with the help of pilots like Trap who helped perfect air/sea strategies and techniques. If you are interested in aviation at all, this biography is a must.”—Military Writers Society of America
  • “This is a fine volume overall. The authors excitement and knowledge for the subject is readily apparent in the book’s pages. This book will appeal to anyone interested in naval history, naval aviation or aviation in general.”—Naval Historical Foundation
  • "Harnessing the Sky is a valuable read for contractors and flight-test engineers. However, it is also applicable for aviators who are challenged to innovate in a technology-dependent force. For any audience, Vice Admiral Trapnell is worthy to stand among both the pioneers of military aviation and today's flight-test programs. His legacy prompts military operators to question the conventional thinking that ties innovation solely to costly new technology. It is of key importance that aviators-like Trap-find the procedures within their purview that they can refine to meet current threats. The principal message of Fredrick Trapnell's example, given a clear voice in this inspiring biography, is that all United States flyers need to be innovators."—Air Force Research Institute
  • “The father of naval aircraft testing is Vice Admiral Trapnell. His input in establishing the methods and procedures to train naval test pilots and test naval aircraft ensured the success of a generation of naval airplanes, test pilots, and astronauts.”—Capt. James A. Lovell, USN (Ret.), spacecraft commander of Apollo 13 and coauthor of Apollo 13
  • “This long overdue book brings light to the notable service of Vice Adm. Frederick Trapnell, who ranks with the likes of Al Boyd, Jimmy Doolittle, Gene Deatrick, and other great pioneers of experimental aviation. ‘Trap’ might well be said to be the single most important naval aviator of all time. This timely, well-written book now sets the record straight!”—Col. Walter Boyne, USAF (Ret.), member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame and author of The Influence of Air Power upon History
  • Harnessing the Sky tells the remarkable story of Vice Adm. Frederick ‘Trap’ Trapnell, legendary naval aviator, carrier skipper, and test pilot, tracing his career from the era of open-cockpit biplanes to experimental jet and rocket planes and his contributions to shaping naval aviation into the formidable projector of global power that it is today. Readers will learn much from this must-read account, whether it is the early challenges of flying little fighters from majestic dirigibles or confronting the challenges of the sound barrier.”—Dr. Richard P. Hallion, aerospace historian
  • “Seldom have I encountered a book that so deftly recovers such a vital piece of our naval aviation legacy. An intriguing read for enthusiasts of history, aviation, and resounding biography.”—Maj. Gen. Kenneth W. Weir, USMCR (Ret.), fellow and former president, Society of Experimental Test Pilots
  • “[This] biography tells the story of an outstanding naval pilot who remains a role model 60 years after his retirement. Not only was he the right man in the right place at the right time to hasten into service the fighters that the U.S. Navy desperately needed after 1941, but his achievement in introducing the new generation of jet fighters after 1946 is equally impressive. The book tells the story of a remarkable man who lived through an era of unprecedented change in naval aviation and is highly recommended.” – Warship 2017

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Frederick “Fritz” M. Trapnell Jr. had a fifty-year career in computer and software engineering and engineering management – starting with IBM and retiring in 2007 from Hewlett-Packard. He is a life-long aviation enthusiast with a special affection for naval aviation. He lives with his wife in Los Altos, California.

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Dana Trapnell Tibbitts began her career as a writer and media relations professional at UCLA in 1980 and continued to work in higher education, media and the arts for much of the next three decades. The stories of ordinary and extraordinary people inspire much of her work as a writer and teacher of biography in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

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Average Customer Reviews
5.00 Stars
Harnessing the Sky
Sunday, July 3, 2016
By: John J. Gobbell
An amazing thing one learns in this well-told story is that the naval test pilot program of World War II was concentrated in so few people. But when one realizes that the USA’s population was only 140 million at the time, one understands there weren’t that many people who could step up and do the job. But with test pilots, the U.S, came up with it in spades. Frederick Trapnell was a pilot’s pilot. He flew not only by the seat of his pants but by amazing observations and conclusions of his cerebral cortex. With the latter, he developed performance data for the critical F4U Corsair and F6F Hellcat programs at a time when our country needed them most. Those programs moved along quickly and the two fighters became dominate in the latter part of the war. And Trap was instrumental in seeing that non-deserving programs did not fare so well. This included Grumman’s F5F twin engine fighter, a supposed answer to Lockheed’s storied P 38. With Trap’s recommendations, Grumman did not waste time with the F5F and moved on successfully to the F6F Hellcat. By the war’s end, Trap was in such great demand by manufactures all over the nation that the Navy gave him an F7F Tigercat, a single-seat hot rod with twin R 2800 engines, as his personal taxi. With the Tigercat, he blasted around the country and did what he loved: testing new aircraft. Including jets. He did that too and took our Navy into the high speed, super-sonic age. The prose is excellent. The entire work is fastidiously researched and better, it reads like a novel. One cannot put it down. John J. Gobbell – author, EDGE OF VALOR and the Todd Ingram series
 

 
 

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