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North American X-15 RSS

North American X-15
Images in: /Aviation/Test Aircraft "X-Planes"/North American X-15

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B-52 with X-15 under wing prior to launch B-52 with X-15 under wing prior to launch
 High-altitude contrails frame the B-52 mothership as it carries the X-15 aloft for a research flight on 13 April 1960 on Air Force Maj. Robert M. White's first X-15 flight. The X-15s were air-launched so that they would have enough rocket fuel to reach their high speed and altitude test points. For this early research flight, the X-15 was equipped with a pair of XLR-11 rocket engines until the XLR-99 was available.  NASA B-52, Tail Number 008, is an air launch carrier aircraft, "mothership," as well as a research aircraft platform that has been used on a variety of research projects. The aircraft, a "B" model built in 1952 and first flown on June 11, 1955, is the oldest B-52 in flying status and has been used on some of the most significant research projects in aerospace history.
 
 
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Ground crew with X-15 after landing Ground crew with X-15 after landing
 X-15 (56-6672) research aircraft is secured by ground crew after landing on Rogers Dry Lakebed. The work of the X-15 team did not end with the landing of the aircraft. Once it had stopped on the lakebed, the pilot had to complete an extensive post-landing checklist.  Post-landing checklist involved recording instrument readings, pressures and temperatures, positioning switches, and shutting down systems. The pilot was then assisted from the aircraft, and a small ground crew depressurized the tanks before the rest of the ground crew finished their work on the aircraft.
 
 
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Historic NASA test aircraft in hangar Historic NASA test aircraft in hangar
 Hangar 4802 at the NASA Flight Research Center in 1966. Aircraft on left include (left to right): HL-10, M2-F2, M2-F1, F-4A, F5D-1, F-104 (barely visible) and C-47. Aircraft on the right side (left to right) include: X-15-1 (56-6670), X-15-3 (56-6672), and X-15-2 (56-6671).  Hangar 4802 had been the main hangar at the Flight Research Center (FRC--now the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA) and before that, the High-Speed Flight Station, since 1954. During 1966, the two main flight research projects at the FRC were the lifting bodies (including the M2-F1, M2-F2, and HL-10) and the X-15.
 
 
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HL-10 and X-15 parked on ramp at Edwards AFB HL-10 and X-15 parked on ramp at Edwards AFB
 Both the HL-10 and X-15 shown here parked beside one another on the NASA ramp in 1966, underwent modifications. The X-15 No. 2 had been damaged in a crash landing in November 1962. Subsequently, the fuselage was lengthened, and it was outfitted with two large drop tanks. These modifications allowed the X-15A-2 to reach the speed of Mach 6.7.  On the HL-10, the stability problems that appeared on the first flight at the end of 1966 required a reshaping of the fins' leading edges to eliminate the separated airflow that was causing the unstable flight. By cambering the leading edges of the fins, the HL-10 team achieved attached flow and stable flight.
 
 
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HL-10 and X-15 parked on ramp at Edwards AFB HL-10 and X-15 parked on ramp at Edwards AFB
 Both the HL-10 and X-15 shown here parked beside one another on the NASA ramp in 1966, underwent modifications. The X-15 No. 2 had been damaged in a crash landing in November 1962. Subsequently, the fuselage was lengthened, and it was outfitted with two large drop tanks. These modifications allowed the X-15A-2 to reach the speed of Mach 6.7.  On the HL-10, the stability problems that appeared on the first flight at the end of 1966 required a reshaping of the fins' leading edges to eliminate the separated airflow that was causing the unstable flight. By cambering the leading edges of the fins, the HL-10 team achieved attached flow and stable flight. Black & white photograph.
 
 
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Launching two X-15 aircraft in one day Launching two X-15 aircraft in one day
 This photo shows one of the four attempts NASA made launching two X-15 aircraft in one day. This attempt occurred November 4, 1960. None of the four attempts was successful, although one of the two aircraft involved in each attempt usually made a research flight. In this case, Air Force pilot Robert A. Rushworth flew X-15 #1 on its 16th flight to a speed of Mach 1.95 and an altitude of 48,900 feet.
 
 
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Mission markings painted on the side of NASA's B-52 mothership Mission markings painted on the side of NASA's B-52 mothership
 A view of some of the mission markings, painted on the side of NASA's B-52 mothership, that tell the story of its colorful history. Just as combat aircraft would paint a bomb on the side of an aircraft for each bombing mission completed, NASA crew members painted a silhouette on the side of the B-52's fuselage to commemorate each drop of an X-15, lifting body, remotely piloted research vehicle, X-38 crew return vehicle, or other experimental vehicle or parachute system.
 
 
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NASA test pilot Bill Dana next to X-15 aircraft NASA test pilot Bill Dana next to X-15 aircraft
 NASA research pilot Bill Dana is seen here next to the X-15 #3 rocket-powered aircraft after a flight. William H. Dana is Chief Engineer at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California.  Formerly an aerospace research pilot at Dryden, Dana flew the F-15 HIDEC research aircraft and the Advanced Fighter Technology Integration F-16 aircraft. Dana flew the X-15 research airplane 16 times, reaching a top speed of 3,897 miles per hour and a peak altitude of 310,000 feet (almost 59 miles high).
 
 
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NASA test pilot Joe Engle first to fly X-15 in space NASA test pilot Joe Engle first to fly X-15 in space
 Captain Joe Engle is seen here next to the X-15-2 (56-6671) rocket-powered research aircraft after a flight. Engle made 16 flights in the X-15 between October 7, 1963, and October 14, 1965. Three of the flights, on June 29, August 10, and October 14, 1965, were above 50 miles, qualifying him for astronaut wings under the Air Force definition. (NASA followed the international definition of space as starting at 62 miles.)  Engle was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1966, making him the only person who had flown in space before being selected as an astronaut. First assigned to the Apollo program, he served on the support crew for Apollo 10, and then as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 14. In 1977, he was commander of one of two crews who were launched from atop a modified Boeing 747 in order to conduct approach and landing tests with the Space Shuttle Enterprise.
 
 
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NASA test pilot Milt Thompson stands next to X-15 NASA test pilot Milt Thompson stands next to X-15
 NASA research pilot Milt Thompson stands next to the X-15 #3 ship after a research flight. Milton 0. Thompson was a research pilot, Chief Engineer and Director of Research Projects during a long career at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.  Thompson was hired as an engineer at the Flight Research Facility on March 19, 1956, when it was still under the auspices of NACA. He became a research pilot on May 25, 1958.  Thompson was one of the 12 NASA, Air Force, and Navy pilots to fly the X-15 rocket-powered research aircraft between 1959 and 1968. He began flying X-15s on October 29, 1963. He flew the aircraft 14 times during the following two years, reaching a maximum speed of 3723 mph (Mach 5.42) and a peak altitude of 214,100 feet on separate flights.
 
 
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NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong in flight with X-15 NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong in flight with X-15
 X-15 aircraft in flight over the desert  December 20, 1961. Ship #3 made 65 flights during the program, attaining a top speed of Mach 5.65 and a maximum altitude of 354,200 feet. Only 10 of the 12 X-15 pilots flew Ship #3, and only eight of them earned their astronaut wings during the program.  Robert White, Joseph Walker, Robert Rushworth, John "Jack" McKay, Joseph Engle, William "Pete" Knight, William Dana, and Michael Adams all earned their astronaut wings in Ship #3. Neil Armstrong and Milton Thompson also flew Ship #3. In fact, Armstrong piloted Ship #3 on its first flight, on 20 December 1961.
 
 
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NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong next to X-15 after flight NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong next to X-15 after flight
 NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong wearing space suit is seen here next to the X-15 ship #1 (56-6670) after a high speed research flight. Neil A. Armstrong joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory (later NASA’s Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio, and today the Glenn Research Center) in 1955.  Later that year, he transferred to the NACA’s High-Speed Flight Station (today, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center) at Edwards Air Force Base in California as an aeronautical research scientist and then as a pilot, a position he held until becoming an astronaut in 1962.  Armstrong was one of nine NASA astronauts in the second class to be chosen, as a research pilot he served as project pilot on the F-100A and F-100C aircraft, F-101, and the F-104A. He also flew the X-1B, X-5, F-105, F-106, B-47, KC-135, and Paresev.  Neil Armstrong left Dryden with a total of over 2450 flying hours. He was a member of the USAF-NASA Dyna-Soar Pilot Consultant Group before the Dyna-Soar project was cancelled, and studied X-20 Dyna-Soar approaches and abort maneuvers through use of the F-102A and F5D jet aircraft.
 
 
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NASA X-15 test pilot Bill Dana after flight NASA X-15 test pilot Bill Dana after flight
 NASA research pilot Bill Dana is seen here wearing space suit, next to the X-15 rocket-powered aircraft after flight. William H. Dana is Chief Engineer at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base.  Formerly an aerospace research pilot at Dryden, Dana flew the F-15 HIDEC research aircraft and the Advanced Fighter Technology Integration/F-16 aircraft. Dana flew the X-15 research airplane 16 times, reaching a top speed of 3,897 miles per hour and a peak altitude of 310,000 feet (almost 59 miles high).
 
 
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NASA X-15 test pilot clown around in front of aircraft NASA X-15 test pilot clown around in front of aircraft
 The X-15 test pilots clown around in front of the #2 aircraft.From left to right: USAF Capt. Joseph Engle, USAF Maj. Robert Rushworth, NASA test pilot John "Jack" McKay, USAF Maj. William "Pete" Knight, NASA test pilot Milton Thompson, and NASA test pilot William Dana.
 
 
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NASA X-15 test pilot Neil Armstrong after flight NASA X-15 test pilot Neil Armstrong after flight
NASA research pilot Neil Armstrong is seen here in the cockpit of the X-15 ship #1 (56-6670) after a research flight. Armstrong, who later became the first human to land on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission, flew the X-15 twice in 1960 -- both times in X-15 No. 1. The dates of his flights were 30 November and 9 December, 1960. Armstrong later flew five more times in the X-15, with his last flight occurring on 26 July 1962. This post-landing photo gives some indication of the large number of people and the amount of effort needed to secure the aircraft after a flight. The individual on the right side of the photo, facing the camera, is Bruce Peterson, who later flew the M2-F1, M2-F2, and HL-10 lifting bodies among other aircraft.
 
 
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NASA X-15 test pilots Engle, Rushworth, McKay, Knight, Thompson and Bill Dana NASA X-15 test pilots Engle, Rushworth, McKay, Knight, Thompson and Bill Dana
 NASA X-15 test pilots, left to right; Air Force Captain Joseph H. Engle, Air Force Major Robert A. Rushworth, NASA pilot John B. "Jack" McKay, Air Force pilot William J. "Pete" Knight, NASA pilot Milton O. Thompson, and NASA pilot Bill Dana.  Of their 125 X-15 flights, 8 were above the 50 miles that constituted the Air Force's definition of the beginning of space "Engle 3, Dana 2, Rushworth, Knight, and McKay one each." NASA used the international definition of space as beginning at 62 miles above the earth. Color photograph.
 
 
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North American Aviation X-15 cockpit North American Aviation X-15 cockpit
 This photo shows the X-15 cockpit and was unique for many reasons, including the fact that it had two types of controls for the pilot.  For flight in the dense air of the usable atmosphere, the X-15 used conventional aerodynamic controls such as rudder surfaces on the vertical stabilizers to control yaw and movable horizontal stabilizers to control pitch when moving in synchronization or roll when moved differentially.  For flight in the thin air outside of the appreciable Earth's atmosphere, the X-15 used a reaction control system. Hydrogen peroxide thrust rockets located on the nose of the aircraft provided pitch and yaw control. Those on the wing provided roll control. The conventional aerodynamic controls used a stick, located in the middle of the floor, and pedals. The reaction control system used a side arm controller, seen in this photo on the left.
 
 
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North American X-15 during high speed flight North American X-15 during high speed flight
X-15 #2 (56-6671) launches away from the B-52 mothership with its rocket engine ignited. The white patches near the middle of the ship are frost from the liquid oxygen used in the propulsion system, although very cold liquid nitrogen was also used to cool the payload bay, cockpit, windshields and nose.
 
 
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North American X-15 rolled out, 1958 North American X-15 rolled out, 1958
The X-15-1(56-6670) rocket powered research aircraft as it was rolled out in 1958. At this time, the XLR-99 rocket engine was not ready, so to make the low-speed flights (below Mach 3), the X-15 team fitted a pair of XLR-11engines into the modified rear fuselage. These were basically the same engines used in the X-1 aircraft.
 
 
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North American X-15 with external fuel tanks North American X-15 with external fuel tanks
The second X-15 rocket plane (56-6671) is shown with two external fuel tanks which were added during its conversion to the X-15A-2 configuration in the mid-1960's. After receiving an ablative coating to protect the craft from the high temperatures associated with high-Mach-number supersonic flight, the X-15A-2 was then covered with a white sealant coat. NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB, 1965.
 
 
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Test pilot Joseph Walker next to X-15 aircraft Test pilot Joseph Walker next to X-15 aircraft
Joe Walker is seen here after a flight in front of the X-15 #2 (56-6671) rocket-powered research aircraft. Joseph A. Walker was a Chief Research Pilot at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center during the mid-1960s. He joined NACA in March 1945, and served as project pilot at the Edwards flight research facility on such pioneering research projects as the D-558-1, D-558-2, X-1, X-3, X-4, X-5, and the X-15. He also flew programs involving the F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104, and the B-47. Walker made the first NASA X-15 flight on March 25, 1960. He flew the research aircraft 24 times and achieved its highest altitude. He attained a speed of 4,104 mph (Mach 5.92) during a flight on June 27, 1962, and reached an altitude of 354,200 feet (67.08 miles) on August 22, 1963 (his last X-15 flight). This was one of three flights by Walker that achieved altitudes over 50 miles. Walker was killed on June 8, 1966, when his F-104 collided with the XB-70.
 
 
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Test pilot Neil Armstrong in cockpit of X-15 after flight Test pilot Neil Armstrong in cockpit of X-15 after flight
 NASA pilot Neil Armstrong is seen here in the cockpit of the X-15 after high speed research flight. In July 1955, Armstrong transferred to the High-Speed Flight Station HSFS, at Dryden Flight Research Center as an aeronautical research engineer. Soon thereafter, he became a research pilot.  For the first few years at the HSFS, Armstrong worked on a number of projects. He was a pilot on the Navy P2B-1S used to launch the D-558-2 and also flew the F-100A, F-100C, F-101, F-104A, and X-5.  His introduction to rocket flight came on August 15, 1957, with his first flight (of four, total) on the X-1B. He then became one of the first three NASA pilots to fly the X-15, the others being Joe Walker and Jack McKay. (Scott Crossfield, a former NACA pilot, flew the X-15 first but did so as a North American Aviation pilot.)
 
 
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Test pilot Neil Armstrong next to X-15 after flight Test pilot Neil Armstrong next to X-15 after flight
 NASA Dryden test pilot Neil Armstrong is seen here next to the X-15 ship #1 (56-6670) after high speed research test flight. Armstrong made his first X-15 flight on November 30, 1960, in the #1 X-15. He made his second flight on December 9, 1960, in the same aircraft.  This was the first X-15 flight to use the ball nose, which provided accurate measurement of air speed and flow angle at supersonic and hypersonic speeds. The servo-actuated ball nose can be seen in this photo in front of Armstrong's right hand.  The X-15 employed a non-standard landing gear. It had a nose gear with a wheel and tire, but the main landing consisted of skids mounted at the rear of the vehicle. In the photo, the left skid is visible, as are marks on the lakebed from both skids. Because of the skids, the rocket-powered aircraft could only land on a dry lakebed, not on a concrete runway.
 
 
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Test pilot Robert White next to X-15 after flight Test pilot Robert White next to X-15 after flight
 NASA Test pilot Major Robert M. White is seen here next to the X-15 aircraft after a research flight. White was one of the initial pilots selected for the X-15 program, representing the Air Force in the joint program with NASA, the Navy, and North American Aviation.  Between 13 April 1960 and 14 December 1962, he made 16 flights in the rocket-powered aircraft. He was the first pilot to fly to Mach 4, 5, and 6 (respectively 4, 5, and 6 times the speed of sound). He also flew to the altitude of 314,750 feet on 17 July 1962, setting a world altitude record.  This was 59.6 miles, significantly higher than the 50 miles the Air Force accepted as the beginning of space, qualifying White for astronaut wings.
 
 
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Test pilot William J. "Pete" Knight with X-15 aircraft Test pilot William J. "Pete" Knight with X-15 aircraft
Air Force test pilot William J. "Pete" Knight is seen here in front of the X-15A-2 aircraft (56-6671). Pete Knight made 16 flights in the X-15, and set the world unofficial speed record for fixed wing aircraft, 4,520 mph (mach 6.7), in the X-15A-2. He also made one flight above 50 miles, qualifying him for astronaut wings.
 
 
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X-15 aircraft launched from Boeing B-52 X-15 aircraft launched from Boeing B-52
The X-15 rocket-powered aircraft was taken aloft under the wing of a B-52. Because of the large fuel consumption, the X-15 was air launched from a B-52 mothership aircraft at 45,000 ft and a speed of about 500 mph. This was one of the early powered flights using a pair of XLR-11 engines (until the XLR-99 became available).
 
 
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X-15 aircraft reach speed record of 4,520 mph X-15 aircraft reach speed record of 4,520 mph
 After receiving a full scale ablative coating to protect the craft from the high temperatures associated with high-Mach-number supersonic flight, the X-15A-2 (56-6671) rocket powered research aircraft was then covered with a white sealant coat and mounted with additional external fuel tanks. This ablative coating and sealant would help the X-15A-2 aircraft reach the record speed of 4,520 mph (Mach 6.7).
 
 
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X-15 aircraft under wing of B-52 before launch X-15 aircraft under wing of B-52 before launch
 X-15 rocket powered aircraft was taken aloft under the wing of a B-52. Because of the large fuel consumption, the X-15 was air launched from a B-52 aircraft at 45,000 ft and a speed of about 500 mph. This photo was taken from one of the observation windows in the B-52 shortly before dropping the X-15.
 
 
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X-15 Crew and personnel, Edwards AFB X-15 Crew and personnel, Edwards AFB
X-15 personnel commemorating all three X-15's being flown during the same week. February 7, 1961 Back Row, left to right: John "Bill" Lovett, John E. Huntington, Homer Hall, Robert E. "Bob" Allen, Lorenzo "Larry" Barnett, Charles "Charlie" Russell, Sylvester Weeks Kneeling, left to right: Gilbert "Gil" Kincaid, George E. Trott, Joseph "Joe" Huxman, Willard Glasscock
 
 
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X-15 flight simulator at Edwards AFB X-15 flight simulator at Edwards AFB
One of the major advances in aircraft development, pilot training, mission planning, and research flight activities in the 1950s and 1960s was the use of simulators. For the X-15, a computer was programmed with the flight characteristics of the aircraft. Before actually flying a mission, a research pilot could discover many potential problems with the aircraft or the mission while still on the ground by "flying" the simulator. The problem could then be analyzed by engineers and a solution found. This did much to improve safety. The X-15 simulator was very limited compared to those available in the 21st century. The video display was simple, while the computer was analog rather than digital (although it became hybrid in 1964 with the addition of a digital computer for the X-15A-2; this generated the nonlinear aerodynamic coefficients for the modified No. 2 aircraft). The nonlinear aerodynamic function generators used in the X-15 simulator had hundreds of fuses, amplifiers, and potentiometers without any surge protection. After the simulator was started on a Monday morning, it would be noon before it had warmed up and stabilized. The electronics for the X-15 simulator took up many large consoles.
 
 
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