In This Review

Sidewinder: Creative Missile Development at China Lake
Sidewinder: Creative Missile Development at China Lake
By Ron Westrum
Naval Institute Press, 1999, 331 pp

A short, well-written, and authoritative account of the development of the Sidewinder heat-seeking missile that changed the traditional duel of guns into an exchange of guided weapons. Led by William McLean, a quiet, bow-tied engineer who served as the technical director of the Naval Ordnance Test Station, the Sidewinder's developers at the Navy's China Lake lab in the 1950s were an unusual group. Indeed, Sidewinder is most interesting in its depiction of the human community that created the missile. Westrum also sketches a brief but depressing account of how creeping bureaucratization killed the innovative spirit that forged the weapon. Sadly, after so many upgrades, modifications, and development, the Sidewinder may no longer be the world's best.