Thursday, September 17, 2009

The X-15: Revisited

X-15 #2 in flight under rocket power. (Photo by NASA)

Fifty years ago today the rocket jet known as the X-15 was first flown. Carried up to a launch altitude of feet by a specially modified B-52 aircraft, the X-15 with test pilot Scott Crossfield onboard was jettisoned and then history was made.

Actually, a lot of history would be made by this aircraft. Flown by 12 different pilots, some Air Force (6), some Navy (1) and some would be plain ole civilian (5, one of them none other than Neil Armstrong) these men and the many other men and women that worked on the ground to prepare and document the 199 flight tests contributed to the expansion of our knowledge of aeronautics and space travel.

With these three aircraft one of which was lost (the crash killing Major Michael J. Adams, USAF), NACA and its follow on agency, NASA made it possible for the Space Shuttle to exist some 20 years later. Items such as Reaction Control Thrusters and Thermal Protection were mastered using these aircraft.

In its day they flew to a record 354,000 foot altitude which held until 2004 when that was broken by the third flight of "Spaceship One" by the Burt Rutan's organization, Scaled Composites. The Air Force gave out their famed Astronaut Wings to X-15 pilots, a rare treat even today. The max speed achieved during the X-15 program was mach 6.7 or 4,519 mph. That is fast.

Only a footnote in today's politically charged times however, the 10 years of the X-15 flying test program marked the 'high water' this countries Research, Development and Engineering activity. Contributions in this field continue today but not at the pace it did back in the early 60's.

X-15 immediately after release from the NB-52B 'Mothership'. (USAF photo)

Oh, I was born a few years too late to join in the fun!!
Go here for more: Aero-News Network
Both of the above pictures were stolen from Wikipedia, original source was NACA/NASA or the USAF.
BT: Jimmy T sends.


Buck said...

The X-15 was the stuff of my mid-teen fantasies. I followed ALL of this stuff well into adulthood, too.

JimmyT said...

Buck, same here. That was an amazing era, we changed aircraft constantly always something new. Living in ABQ back then they would bring some of them to Kirtland to do the high altitude high density testing on them, mainly the big aircraft. I remember seeing the B-52 for the first time, low and slow over the mesa west of Kirtland, you could throw rocks at it. Same with the C-5 when it came out. Now it takes us ten years to put one together for the first time.

BT: Jimmy T sends.