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North American X-15

North American X-15

Overview

The North American X-15 rocket-powered aircraft
Rocket-powered aircraft
A rocket-powered aircraft or rocket plane is an aircraft that uses a rocket for propulsion, sometimes in addition to airbreathing jet engines. Rocket planes can achieve much higher speeds than similarly sized jet aircraft, but typically for at most a few minutes of powered operation, followed by a...

/spaceplane
Spaceplane
A spaceplane is a vehicle that operates as an aircraft in Earth's atmosphere, as well as a spacecraft when it is in space. It combines features of an aircraft and a spacecraft, which can be thought of as an aircraft that can endure and maneuver in the vacuum of space or likewise a spacecraft that...

 was part of the X-series of experimental aircraft
Experimental aircraft
An experimental aircraft is an aircraft that has not yet been fully proven in flight. Often, this implies that new aerospace technologies are being tested on the aircraft, though the label is more broad....

, initiated with the Bell X-1
Bell X-1
The Bell X-1, originally designated XS-1, was a joint NACA-U.S. Army/US Air Force supersonic research project built by Bell Aircraft. Conceived in 1944 and designed and built over 1945, it eventually reached nearly 1,000 mph in 1948...

, that were made for the USAAF
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

/USAF, NACA
NACA
- Organizations :* National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the forerunner of the U.S. federal agency NASA* National Association for Campus Activities, an organization for programmers of university and college activities...

/NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

, and the USN. The X-15 set speed and altitude records in the early 1960s, reaching the edge of outer space
Karman line
The Kármán line lies at an altitude of above the Earth's sea level, and is commonly used to define the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space...

 and returning with valuable data used in aircraft
Aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

 and spacecraft
Spacecraft
A spacecraft or spaceship is a craft or machine designed for spaceflight. Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, planetary exploration and transportation of humans and cargo....

 design. , it holds the official world record for the fastest speed ever reached by a manned rocket-powered aircraft.

During the X-15 program, 13 of the flights (by eight pilots) met the USAF spaceflight
Human spaceflight
Human spaceflight is spaceflight with humans on the spacecraft. When a spacecraft is manned, it can be piloted directly, as opposed to machine or robotic space probes and remotely-controlled satellites....

 criteria by exceeding the altitude of 50 miles (80.5 km) thus qualifying the pilots for astronaut
Astronaut
An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft....

 status.
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The North American X-15 rocket-powered aircraft
Rocket-powered aircraft
A rocket-powered aircraft or rocket plane is an aircraft that uses a rocket for propulsion, sometimes in addition to airbreathing jet engines. Rocket planes can achieve much higher speeds than similarly sized jet aircraft, but typically for at most a few minutes of powered operation, followed by a...

/spaceplane
Spaceplane
A spaceplane is a vehicle that operates as an aircraft in Earth's atmosphere, as well as a spacecraft when it is in space. It combines features of an aircraft and a spacecraft, which can be thought of as an aircraft that can endure and maneuver in the vacuum of space or likewise a spacecraft that...

 was part of the X-series of experimental aircraft
Experimental aircraft
An experimental aircraft is an aircraft that has not yet been fully proven in flight. Often, this implies that new aerospace technologies are being tested on the aircraft, though the label is more broad....

, initiated with the Bell X-1
Bell X-1
The Bell X-1, originally designated XS-1, was a joint NACA-U.S. Army/US Air Force supersonic research project built by Bell Aircraft. Conceived in 1944 and designed and built over 1945, it eventually reached nearly 1,000 mph in 1948...

, that were made for the USAAF
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

/USAF, NACA
NACA
- Organizations :* National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the forerunner of the U.S. federal agency NASA* National Association for Campus Activities, an organization for programmers of university and college activities...

/NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

, and the USN. The X-15 set speed and altitude records in the early 1960s, reaching the edge of outer space
Karman line
The Kármán line lies at an altitude of above the Earth's sea level, and is commonly used to define the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space...

 and returning with valuable data used in aircraft
Aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

 and spacecraft
Spacecraft
A spacecraft or spaceship is a craft or machine designed for spaceflight. Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, planetary exploration and transportation of humans and cargo....

 design. , it holds the official world record for the fastest speed ever reached by a manned rocket-powered aircraft.

During the X-15 program, 13 of the flights (by eight pilots) met the USAF spaceflight
Human spaceflight
Human spaceflight is spaceflight with humans on the spacecraft. When a spacecraft is manned, it can be piloted directly, as opposed to machine or robotic space probes and remotely-controlled satellites....

 criteria by exceeding the altitude of 50 miles (80.5 km) thus qualifying the pilots for astronaut
Astronaut
An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft....

 status. The USAF pilots qualified for USAF astronaut wings, while the civilian pilots were later awarded NASA astronaut wings.

Of all the X-15 missions, two flights (by the same pilot) qualified as space flights per the international (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale is the world governing body for air sports and aeronautics and astronautics world records. Its head office is in Lausanne, Switzerland. This includes man-carrying aerospace vehicles from balloons to spacecraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles...

) definition of a spaceflight by exceeding 100 kilometers in altitude.

Design and development


The X-15 was based on a concept study from Walter Dornberger
Walter Dornberger
Major-General Dr Walter Robert Dornberger was a German Army artillery officer whose career spanned World Wars I and II. He was a leader of Germany's V-2 rocket program and other projects at the Peenemünde Army Research Center....

 for the NACA for a hypersonic research aircraft.
The requests for proposal were published on 30 December 1954 for the airframe and on 4 February 1955 for the rocket engine
Rocket engine
A rocket engine, or simply "rocket", is a jet engineRocket Propulsion Elements; 7th edition- chapter 1 that uses only propellant mass for forming its high speed propulsive jet. Rocket engines are reaction engines and obtain thrust in accordance with Newton's third law...

. The X-15 was built by two manufacturers: North American Aviation
North American Aviation
North American Aviation was a major US aerospace manufacturer, responsible for a number of historic aircraft, including the T-6 Texan trainer, the P-51 Mustang fighter, the B-25 Mitchell bomber, the F-86 Sabre jet fighter, the X-15 rocket plane, and the XB-70, as well as Apollo Command and Service...

 was contracted for the airframe in November 1955, and Reaction Motors
Reaction Motors
Reaction Motors Inc. was an early American maker of liquid-fueled rocket engines, located in New Jersey. RMI engines with thrust powered the Bell X-1 rocket aircraft that first broke the sound barrier in 1947, and later successors including the X-1A, X1E, and the D558-2 Douglas Skyrocket...

 was contracted for building the engines in 1956.

Like many X- series aircraft, the X-15 was designed to be carried aloft, under the wing of a NASA B-52
B-52 Stratofortress
The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber operated by the United States Air Force since the 1950s. The B-52 was designed and built by Boeing, who have continued to provide maintainence and upgrades to the aircraft in service...

 mother ship
Mother ship
A mother ship is a vessel or aircraft that carries a smaller vessel or aircraft that operates independently from it. Examples include bombers converted to carry experimental aircraft to altitudes where they can conduct their research , or ships that carry small submarines to an area of ocean to be...

, the Balls 8
Balls 8
Balls 8 was a NASA Boeing NB-52B mothership. It derives its nickname from its NASA tail number 52-008: leading zeroes plus the number 8. Among USAF personnel it is common practice to refer to aircraft whose tail number is a single number preceded by multiple zeros as "Balls" and the last number of...

. Release took place at an altitude of about 8.5 miles (13.7 km) and a speed of about 805 kilometres per hour (500.2 mph). The X-15 fuselage was long and cylindrical, with rear fairings that flattened its appearance, and thick, dorsal and ventral wedge-fin stabilizers. Parts of the fuselage were heat-resistant nickel
Nickel
Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile...

 alloy
Alloy
An alloy is a mixture or metallic solid solution composed of two or more elements. Complete solid solution alloys give single solid phase microstructure, while partial solutions give two or more phases that may or may not be homogeneous in distribution, depending on thermal history...

 (Inconel
Inconel
Inconel is a registered trademark of Special Metals Corporation that refers to a family of austenitic nickel-chromium-based superalloys. Inconel alloys are typically used in high temperature applications. It is often referred to in English as "Inco"...

-X 750). The retractable landing gear
Landing Gear
Landing Gear is Devin the Dude's fifth studio album. It was released on October 7, 2008. It was his first studio album since signing with the label Razor & Tie. It features a high-profile guest appearance from Snoop Dogg. As of October 30, 2008, the album has sold 18,906 copies.-Track...

 comprised a nose-wheel carriage and two rear skis. The skis did not extend beyond the ventral fin, which required the pilot to jettison the lower fin (fitted with a parachute) just before landing.

Cockpit and pilot systems



The X-15 was a research aircraft, and there were changes to it over the course of the program and between the different airframes. The X-15 had to be operated under several different situations including the time attached to a carrier aircraft, drop, main engine start and acceleration, a ballistic flight into thin air/space, re-entry into thicker air, and an unpowered glide to landing. Alternatively, if the main engine was not started the pilot needed to go directly to a landing. The main rocket engine only operated for a relatively short part of the flight, but was capable of boosting the X-15 to its high-speeds and altitudes. Without the main engine on, the X-15's instruments and control surfaces remained functional, but the plane could not maintain altitude.

The X-15 had multiple control systems for the pilot, including a traditional rudder and stick, but also another joystick on the left which gave commands to the reaction control system
Reaction control system
A reaction control system is a subsystem of a spacecraft whose purpose is attitude control and steering by the use of thrusters. An RCS system is capable of providing small amounts of thrust in any desired direction or combination of directions. An RCS is also capable of providing torque to allow...

 (RCS). There was yet another joystick on the right for use during high G maneuvers that augmented the center stick. The X-15 also had a "Stability Augmentation System" (SAS) which gave extra inputs to the aerodynamic controls to help the pilot maintain control. The reaction control system could be operated in two modes: manual and automatic. The automatic mode used a feature called "Reaction Augmentation System" (RAS) that helped stabilize the vehicle during high altitudes. The RAS was typically used for around three minutes of a X-15 flight before being automatically turned off. The X-15 actually had two different types of controls, one type was just discussed and was used on airframe 1 and 2, and another on airframe 3. Airframe 3 had the MH-96 flight control systems, allowing one joystick in place of three and allowing simpler pilot inputs over the course of a flight.

Among the many other controls, were the rocket engine throttle and a control for ejecting the bottom tail fin. Another feature of the cockpit were heated windows to prevent icing, and a forward headrest for periods of high de-acceleration.

The X-15 had an ejection seat that allowed ejection at speeds up to Mach 4 and/or 120,000 feet (~36.6 km) altitude, although it was not used during the program. In the event of ejection, the seat had deployable fins which were used until it reached a safer speed/altitude, where it could deploy its main parachute. Pilots wore a pressure suit, pressurized with nitrogen gas. Above 35,000 ft (~10.7 km) altitude, the cockpit was pressurized to 3.5 psi with nitrogen gas, and oxygen for breathing was fed separately to the pilot.

Engines and fuel


Early flights used two Reaction Motors XLR11 engines. Later flights were undertaken with a single Reaction Motors Inc XLR99 rocket engine generating 57000 pound-forces (253.5 kN) of thrust that powered the aircraft. This engine used ammonia and liquid oxygen for propellant and hydrogen peroxide to drive the high-speed turbopump that delivered fuel to the engine. The XLR99s could be throttled, and were the first such controllable engines that were man-rated
Human-rating certification
Human-rated or man-rated are terms used to describe the certification of a spacecraft, launch vehicleor airplaneas worthy of transporting humans. NASA and the U.S. GAO now uses "Human-rating" when describing requirements for these systems...

.

The XLR11 used ethyl alcohol and liquid oxygen, and the XLR99 used ammonia
Ammonia
Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to food and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or...

 and liquid oxygen as fuel. The X-15 reaction control system
Reaction control system
A reaction control system is a subsystem of a spacecraft whose purpose is attitude control and steering by the use of thrusters. An RCS system is capable of providing small amounts of thrust in any desired direction or combination of directions. An RCS is also capable of providing torque to allow...

 (RCS), for maneuvering in low-pressure, used hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is the simplest peroxide and an oxidizer. Hydrogen peroxide is a clear liquid, slightly more viscous than water. In dilute solution, it appears colorless. With its oxidizing properties, hydrogen peroxide is often used as a bleach or cleaning agent...

 as a monopropellant. It is actually high-test peroxide, and it decomposes into water and oxygen in the presence of a catalyst, and can give an ISP
Specific impulse
Specific impulse is a way to describe the efficiency of rocket and jet engines. It represents the derivative of the impulse with respect to amount of propellant used, i.e., the thrust divided by the amount of propellant used per unit time. If the "amount" of propellant is given in terms of mass ,...

 of 140 seconds. The HTP also powered a turbopump for the main engines and auxiliary power units (APUs). Additional tanks for helium and liquid nitrogen performed other functions, for example the fuselage interior was purged with helium gas and the liquid nitrogen was used as coolant for various systems.

Wedge tail and hypersonic stability


The X-15 had a thick wedge tail for stability at hypersonic speeds. However, this produced a lot of drag at slower speeds. In fact, the blunt end of the X-15 could produce as much drag as an entire F-104 Starfighter
F-104 Starfighter
The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter is a single-engine, high-performance, supersonic interceptor aircraft originally developed for the United States Air Force by Lockheed. One of the Century Series of aircraft, it served with the USAF from 1958 until 1969, and continued with Air National Guard units...

.

Additionally, stability at hypersonic speeds was aided by side panels that could extend out from the tail to further increase area, and these panels doubled as air-brakes.

Operational history


Three X-15s were built, flying 199 test flights, the last on 24 October 1968. The first X-15 flight was an unpowered test flight by Scott Crossfield
Albert Scott Crossfield
Albert Scott Crossfield was an American naval officer and test pilot.-Biography:Born in Berkeley, California, Crossfield grew up in California and Washington. He served with the U.S. Navy as a flight instructor and fighter pilot during World War II...

, on 8 June 1959; he also piloted the first powered flight, on 17 September 1959, with his first XLR-99 flight on 15 November 1960. Twelve test pilots flew the X-15; among them were Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong
Neil Alden Armstrong is an American former astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor, United States Naval Aviator, and the first person to set foot upon the Moon....

 (first man to walk on the moon) and Joe Engle (later a space shuttle commander). In July and August 1963, pilot Joe Walker
Joseph A. Walker
Joseph Albert "Joe" Walker was an American NASA test pilot, and member of the U.S. Air Force Man In Space Soonest program. In 1963, he made two X-15 Experimental rocket aircraft flights beyond the altitude of 100 kilometers - at the edge of outer space...

 crossed the altitude mark, joining the NASA astronauts and Soviet Cosmonauts as the first humans to have crossed the barrier into outer space.

On 15 November 1967, U.S. Air Force test pilot Major Michael J. Adams
Michael James Adams
Michael James Adams was an American aviator, engineer and USAF astronaut. He was the first US space mission fatality, according to the US definition.-Military experience:...

 was killed on X-15 Flight 191 when the (X-15-3) entered a hypersonic spin while descending, then oscillated violently as aerodynamic forces increased after re-entry. As his aircraft's flight control system operated the control surfaces to their limits, acceleration built to 15 g
G-force
The g-force associated with an object is its acceleration relative to free-fall. This acceleration experienced by an object is due to the vector sum of non-gravitational forces acting on an object free to move. The accelerations that are not produced by gravity are termed proper accelerations, and...

vertical and 8 g lateral. The airframe broke apart at 60000 ft (18,288 m) altitude, scattering the X-15's wreckage for 50 square miles (129.5 km²). On 8 June 2004, a monument was erected at the cockpit's locale, near Randsburg, California
Randsburg, California
Randsburg is a census-designated place in Kern County, California, United States. Randsburg is located south of Ridgecrest, at an elevation of 3504 feet . The population was 69 at the 2010 census, down from 77 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Randsburg is located at . It is on the west side of U.S...

. Major Adams was posthumously awarded Air Force astronaut wings for his final flight in X-15-3, which had reached of altitude. In 1991, his name was added to the Astronaut Memorial.

The second X-15A was rebuilt after a landing accident. It was lengthened 2.4 foot (0.73152 m), a pair of auxiliary fuel tanks attached under the fuselage, and a heat-resistant surface treatment applied. Re-named the X-15A-2, it first flew on 28 June 1964, reaching

The altitudes attained by the X-15 aircraft do not match that of Alan Shepard
Alan Shepard
Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. was an American naval aviator, test pilot, flag officer, and NASA astronaut who in 1961 became the second person, and the first American, in space. This Mercury flight was designed to enter space, but not to achieve orbit...

's 1961 NASA space capsule flight nor subsequent NASA space capsules and space shuttle flights. However, the X-15 flights did reign supreme among rocket-powered aircraft until the second spaceflight
SpaceShipOne flight 17P
Flight 17P of SpaceShipOne was a spaceflight in the Tier One program that took place on October 4, 2004. It was the second competitive flight in the Ansari X Prize competition to demonstrate a non-governmental reusable manned spacecraft, and is hence also referred to as the X2 flight...

 of Space Ship One in 2004.

Five aircraft were used for the X-15 program: three X-15s, two B-52 bombers: 56-6670, 82 powered flights 56-6671, 53 powered flights 56-6672, 64 powered flights 52-003 (retired in October 1969) 52-008
Balls 8
Balls 8 was a NASA Boeing NB-52B mothership. It derives its nickname from its NASA tail number 52-008: leading zeroes plus the number 8. Among USAF personnel it is common practice to refer to aircraft whose tail number is a single number preceded by multiple zeros as "Balls" and the last number of...

(retired in November 2004)

A 200th flight over Nevada was slated for 21 November 1968, piloted by William J. Knight
William J. Knight
William J. "Pete" Knight was a U.S. politician, combat pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. Knight holds the world's speed record for flight in a winged, powered aircraft...

. Technical problems and bad weather delayed the flight six times, and on 20 December 1968, the 200th flight was finally canceled. The X-15 was detached from the NB-52A wing and prepared for indefinite storage.

Current static displays


  • X-15-1 (AF Ser. No. 56-6670) is on display in the National Air and Space Museum
    National Air and Space Museum
    The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world. It was established in 1976. Located in Washington, D.C., United States, it is a center for research into the history and science of aviation and...

     "Milestones of Flight" gallery, Washington, D.C.
    Washington, D.C.
    Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

  • X-15-2A (AF Ser. No. 56-6671) is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
    National Museum of the United States Air Force
    The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the official museum of the United States Air Force located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base northeast of Dayton, Ohio. The NMUSAF is the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum with more than 360 aircraft and missiles on display...

    , at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
    Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
    Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is a United States Air Force base in Greene and Montgomery counties in the state of Ohio. It includes both Wright and Patterson Fields, which were originally Wilbur Wright Field and Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot. Patterson Field is located approximately...

    , near Dayton, Ohio
    Dayton, Ohio
    Dayton is the 6th largest city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Montgomery County, the fifth most populous county in the state. The population was 141,527 at the 2010 census. The Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 841,502 in the 2010 census...

    . It was retired to the Museum in October 1969. The aircraft is displayed in the Museum's Research & Development Hangar alongside other "X-planes", including the Bell X-1B and Douglas X-3 Stiletto.
  • X-15-3 (AF Ser. No. 56-6672) was destroyed during X-15 Flight 191. Parts from this aircraft have been recovered at the crash site as late as the 1990s.

Mock-ups

  • Dryden Flight Research Center
    Dryden Flight Research Center
    The Dryden Flight Research Center , located inside Edwards Air Force Base, is an aeronautical research center operated by NASA. On March 26, 1976 it was named in honor of the late Hugh L. Dryden, a prominent aeronautical engineer who at the time of his death in 1965 was NASA's deputy administrator...

    , Edwards AFB, California, USA (painted with AF Ser. No. 56-6672)
  • Pima Air Museum, Tucson, Arizona (painted with AF Ser. No. 56-6671)
  • Evergreen Aviation Museum
    Evergreen Aviation Museum
    The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is an aviation museum which displays a number of military and civilian aircraft and spacecraft, most notably, the Hughes H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose". The museum is located in McMinnville, Oregon, across the street from the headquarters of Evergreen...

    , McMinnville, Oregon (painted with AF Ser. No. 56-6672). A full-scale wooden mock-up of the X-15, it is displayed along with one of the rocket motors.

Stratofortress mother ships

  • NB-52A (AF Ser. No. 52-003) is displayed at the Pima Air and Space Museum adjacent to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona. It launched the X-15-1 30 times, the X-15-2A, 11 times, and the X-15-3 31 times (as well as the M2-F2 four times, the HL-10 11 times and the X-24A twice).
  • NB-52B (AF Ser. No. 52-008) is displayed at the Dryden Flight Research Center
    Dryden Flight Research Center
    The Dryden Flight Research Center , located inside Edwards Air Force Base, is an aeronautical research center operated by NASA. On March 26, 1976 it was named in honor of the late Hugh L. Dryden, a prominent aeronautical engineer who at the time of his death in 1965 was NASA's deputy administrator...

     at Edwards AFB, California. It launched the majority of X-15 flights.

X-15 orbital launch system proposals


Before 1958, USAF and NACA
NACA
- Organizations :* National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the forerunner of the U.S. federal agency NASA* National Association for Campus Activities, an organization for programmers of university and college activities...

, (later NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

), officials discussed an orbital X-15 spacecraft, the X-15B for launching to outer space atop an SM-64 Navajo missile. This was canceled when NACA became NASA, and Project Mercury
Project Mercury
In January 1960 NASA awarded Western Electric Company a contract for the Mercury tracking network. The value of the contract was over $33 million. Also in January, McDonnell delivered the first production-type Mercury spacecraft, less than a year after award of the formal contract. On February 12,...

 was approved instead. By 1959, the Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar space-glider program became the USAF's preferred means for launching military manned spacecraft into orbit; however, this program was canceled in the early 1960s before an operational vehicle could be built. Various configurations of the Navajo were considered, and another proposal proposed a Titan I stage.

In a 1962 proposal, the B-15/X-15 combination was modified so the X-15 was the middle stage in a space launch system sending a Blue Scout rocket into space. The Blue Scout was launched from the X-15 after it was dropped by the NB-52.

Highest flights


There are two definitions of how high a person must go to be referred to as an astronaut
Astronaut
An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft....

. The USAF decided to award astronaut wings to anyone who achieved an altitude of 50 miles (80.5 km) or more. However, the FAI
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale is the world governing body for air sports and aeronautics and astronautics world records. Its head office is in Lausanne, Switzerland. This includes man-carrying aerospace vehicles from balloons to spacecraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles...

 set the limit of space at 100 kilometers . Thirteen X-15 flights went higher than 50 miles (80.5 km) and two of these reached over 100 kilometers.
X-15 flights higher than 50 mi (80.5 km)
Flight Date Top speed Altitude Pilot
Flight 62 17 July 1962 3831 mi/h 59.6 miles (95.9 km) Robert M. White
Robert M. White
Major General Robert Michael "Bob" White was a military aircraft test pilot and a major general in the United States Air Force...

Flight 77 17 January 1963 3677 mi/h 51.4 miles (82.7 km) Joe Walker
Joseph A. Walker
Joseph Albert "Joe" Walker was an American NASA test pilot, and member of the U.S. Air Force Man In Space Soonest program. In 1963, he made two X-15 Experimental rocket aircraft flights beyond the altitude of 100 kilometers - at the edge of outer space...

Flight 87 27 June 1963 3425 mi/h 53.9 miles (86.7 km) Robert Rushworth
Robert A. Rushworth
Robert Aitken Rushworth was a United States Air Force test pilot for the North American X-15 program. Born in Madison, Maine on October 9, 1924. He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Maine, receiving a BE in 1951. He received a BS in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force...

Flight 90
X-15 Flight 90
-Crew:-Mission parameters:*Mass: 15,195 kg fueled; 6,577 kg burnout; 6,260 kg landed*Maximum Altitude: 106.01 km*Range: 534 km*Burn Time: 84.6 seconds*Mach: 5.50*Launch Vehicle: NB-52B Bomber #008...

19 July 1963 3710 mi/h 65.8 miles (105.9 km) Joe Walker
Joseph A. Walker
Joseph Albert "Joe" Walker was an American NASA test pilot, and member of the U.S. Air Force Man In Space Soonest program. In 1963, he made two X-15 Experimental rocket aircraft flights beyond the altitude of 100 kilometers - at the edge of outer space...

Flight 91
X-15 Flight 91
X-15 Flight 91 was a 1963 American human spaceflight mission, and the second and final flight in the program to achieve sub-orbital spaceflight: a flight over 100km in altitude. It was the first flight of a reused spacecraft, as plane number three flew the previous sub-orbital flight on July 19....

22 August 1963 3794 mi/h 67 miles (107.8 km) Joe Walker
Joseph A. Walker
Joseph Albert "Joe" Walker was an American NASA test pilot, and member of the U.S. Air Force Man In Space Soonest program. In 1963, he made two X-15 Experimental rocket aircraft flights beyond the altitude of 100 kilometers - at the edge of outer space...

Flight 138 29 June 1965 3431 mi/h 53.1 miles (85.5 km) Joe H. Engle
Flight 143 10 August 1965 3549 mi/h 51.3 miles (82.6 km) Joe H. Engle
Flight 150 28 September 1965 3731 mi/h 55.9 miles (90 km) John B. McKay
John B. McKay
John B. McKay was one of the first pilots assigned to the X-15 flight research program at NASA's Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. As a civilian research pilot and aeronautical engineer, he made 30 flights in X-15s from October 28, 1960, until September 8, 1966...

Flight 153 14 October 1965 3554 mi/h 50.4 miles (81.1 km) Joe H. Engle
Flight 174 1 November 1966 3750 mi/h 58.1 miles (93.5 km) Bill Dana
William H. Dana
-Career:Dana was born in Pasadena, California, November 3, 1930, received his Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Military Academy in 1952 and served four years as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force...

Flight 190 17 October 1967 3856 mi/h 53.1 miles (85.5 km) Pete Knight
William J. Knight
William J. "Pete" Knight was a U.S. politician, combat pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. Knight holds the world's speed record for flight in a winged, powered aircraft...

Flight 191 15 November 1967 3569 mi/h 50.3 miles (80.9 km) Michael J. Adams
Flight 197 21 August 1968 3443 mi/h 50.6 miles (81.4 km) Bill Dana
William H. Dana
-Career:Dana was born in Pasadena, California, November 3, 1930, received his Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Military Academy in 1952 and served four years as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force...

fatal

Fastest flights

X-15 10 fastest flights
Flight Date Top Speed Altitude Pilot
Flight 45 9 November 1961 4092 mi/h 19.2 miles (30.9 km) Robert M. White
Robert M. White
Major General Robert Michael "Bob" White was a military aircraft test pilot and a major general in the United States Air Force...

Flight 59 27 June 1962 4104 mi/h 23.4 miles (37.7 km) Joe Walker
Joseph A. Walker
Joseph Albert "Joe" Walker was an American NASA test pilot, and member of the U.S. Air Force Man In Space Soonest program. In 1963, he made two X-15 Experimental rocket aircraft flights beyond the altitude of 100 kilometers - at the edge of outer space...

Flight 64 26 July 1962 3989 mi/h 18.7 miles (30.1 km) Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong
Neil Alden Armstrong is an American former astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor, United States Naval Aviator, and the first person to set foot upon the Moon....

Flight 86 25 June 1963 3910 mi/h 21.7 miles (34.9 km) Joe Walker
Joseph A. Walker
Joseph Albert "Joe" Walker was an American NASA test pilot, and member of the U.S. Air Force Man In Space Soonest program. In 1963, he made two X-15 Experimental rocket aircraft flights beyond the altitude of 100 kilometers - at the edge of outer space...

Flight 89 18 July 1963 3925 mi/h 19.8 miles (31.9 km) Robert Rushworth
Robert A. Rushworth
Robert Aitken Rushworth was a United States Air Force test pilot for the North American X-15 program. Born in Madison, Maine on October 9, 1924. He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Maine, receiving a BE in 1951. He received a BS in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force...

Flight 97 5 December 1963 4017 mi/h 19.1 miles (30.7 km) Robert Rushworth
Robert A. Rushworth
Robert Aitken Rushworth was a United States Air Force test pilot for the North American X-15 program. Born in Madison, Maine on October 9, 1924. He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Maine, receiving a BE in 1951. He received a BS in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force...

Flight 105 29 April 1964 3905 mi/h 19.2 miles (30.9 km) Robert Rushworth
Robert A. Rushworth
Robert Aitken Rushworth was a United States Air Force test pilot for the North American X-15 program. Born in Madison, Maine on October 9, 1924. He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Maine, receiving a BE in 1951. He received a BS in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force...

Flight 137 22 June 1965 3938 mi/h 29.5 miles (47.5 km) John B. McKay
John B. McKay
John B. McKay was one of the first pilots assigned to the X-15 flight research program at NASA's Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. As a civilian research pilot and aeronautical engineer, he made 30 flights in X-15s from October 28, 1960, until September 8, 1966...

Flight 175 18 November 1966 4250 mi/h 18.7 miles (30.1 km) Pete Knight
William J. Knight
William J. "Pete" Knight was a U.S. politician, combat pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. Knight holds the world's speed record for flight in a winged, powered aircraft...

Flight 188 3 October 1967 4519 mi/h 19.3 miles (31.1 km) Pete Knight
William J. Knight
William J. "Pete" Knight was a U.S. politician, combat pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. Knight holds the world's speed record for flight in a winged, powered aircraft...


X-15 pilots



X-15 pilots and their achievements during the program
Pilot Organization Total
Flights
USAF
space
flights
FAI
space
flights
Max
Mach
Max
speed
(mph)
Max
altitude
(miles)
Michael J. Adams U.S. Air Force 7 1 0 5.59 3,822 50.3
Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong
Neil Alden Armstrong is an American former astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor, United States Naval Aviator, and the first person to set foot upon the Moon....

NASA 7 0 0 5.74 3,989 39.2
Scott Crossfield
Albert Scott Crossfield
Albert Scott Crossfield was an American naval officer and test pilot.-Biography:Born in Berkeley, California, Crossfield grew up in California and Washington. He served with the U.S. Navy as a flight instructor and fighter pilot during World War II...

North American Aviation 14 0 0 2.97 1,959 15.3
Bill Dana
William H. Dana
-Career:Dana was born in Pasadena, California, November 3, 1930, received his Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Military Academy in 1952 and served four years as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force...

NASA 16 2 0 5.53 3,897 58.1
Joe H. Engle U.S. Air Force 16 3 0 5.71 3,887 53.1
Pete Knight
William J. Knight
William J. "Pete" Knight was a U.S. politician, combat pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. Knight holds the world's speed record for flight in a winged, powered aircraft...

U.S. Air Force 16 1 0 6.70 4,519 53.1
John B. McKay
John B. McKay
John B. McKay was one of the first pilots assigned to the X-15 flight research program at NASA's Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. As a civilian research pilot and aeronautical engineer, he made 30 flights in X-15s from October 28, 1960, until September 8, 1966...

NASA 29 1 0 5.65 3,863 55.9
Forrest S. Petersen
Forrest S. Petersen
Vice Admiral Forrest S. Petersen was a United States Navy aviator and test pilot.-Birth and education:Born in Holdrege, Nebraska, he was the son of Elmer and Stella Petersen. and was raised in Gibbon, Nebraska...

U.S. Navy 5 0 0 5.3 3,600 19.2
Robert A. Rushworth
Robert A. Rushworth
Robert Aitken Rushworth was a United States Air Force test pilot for the North American X-15 program. Born in Madison, Maine on October 9, 1924. He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Maine, receiving a BE in 1951. He received a BS in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force...

U.S. Air Force 34 1 0 6.06 4,017 53.9
Milt Thompson
Milton O. Thompson
Milton Orville Thompson was a NASA research pilot who was selected as an astronaut for the United States Air Force X-20 Dyna-Soar program in April 1960. After the Dyna-Soar program was cancelled on 10 December 1963, he remained a NASA research pilot, and went on to fly the X-15 rocket plane...

NASA 14 0 0 5.48 3,723 40.5
Joe Walker
Joseph A. Walker
Joseph Albert "Joe" Walker was an American NASA test pilot, and member of the U.S. Air Force Man In Space Soonest program. In 1963, he made two X-15 Experimental rocket aircraft flights beyond the altitude of 100 kilometers - at the edge of outer space...

U.S. Air Force 25 3 2 5.92 4,104 67.0
Robert M. White
Robert M. White
Major General Robert Michael "Bob" White was a military aircraft test pilot and a major general in the United States Air Force...

*
U.S. Air Force 16 1 0 6.04 4,092 59.6
Killed * White was backup for Captain Iven Kincheloe

Specifications (X-15)


See also


External links



NASA
Non-NASA