When I was a kid, I used to go to our public library once or twice a week. It was a great building, a Carnegie library, with all sorts of ornate architectural features. The children’s room was on the second floor.
I was a sucker for two kinds of books. One of them was the “Childhoods of Famous Americans” series, which I suspect were largely fictitious accounts of the younger days of famous people ranging from the Founders to Babe Ruth to Albert Einstein. These books never mentioned that the more contemporary figures in the series—Einstein, Ruth—were dead, probably to avoid stomping on their young readers’ tender sensibilities.
The other books I liked were about military aircraft, I suspect because about two hours north of here, in Niagara Falls, an Air Force base kept the skies filled with fighters and bombers when I was a kid. The fighters were generally F-100s or occasional F-4s; the bombers were always B-52s. Often they would fly overhead while refueling, with a fighter pilot gently jockeying for refueling position just behind and under the KC-135 tanker planes.
Through the aircraft books, I knew a lot of the other planes in service at the time, although I never saw most of them in the skies above my hometown. I was particularly disappointed to never see a B-58, a delta-winged bomber capable of flying 1,300 mph.
The last page in one of those books was reserved for a mammoth bomber that had not been built: the B-70. It was supposed to be able to fly at 2,000 mph at altitudes of over 70,000 feet, but improvements in air defenses made the plane obsolete before it was ever built. It was the coolest-looking airplane ever: picture a muscled-up Concorde.
The book estimated how high the plane would fly, how fast, and when it would be put into production. I remember reading it and thinking that 1970 was a long way into the future but even so, it would be an exciting year because of the B-70.
Eventually, only two of the planes were built. One crashed. And I look back and can’t remember very much at all about the boy reading those books about airplanes.