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THE ¥-15

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AIRPLANE
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
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NASA test pilot Joseph A. Walker (right) heads for the X-15,
which is hooked under the right wing of the big 8-52 mother plane.
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THE X-15 RESEARCH AIRPLANE
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IT IS 1 MINUTE to zero in an X-15 countdown that be-


X-1S RESEARCH AIRPLANE
gan 24 hours ago. Tucked under the right wing of a
B- 52 aircraft, the X- I5 is about 45,000 feet above Mud
Lake, Nev. The X- I5 pilot is making his final check-
out:
At 1 minute-
• "Prime switch to PRIME."
At 40 seconds- DESIGN MAXIMUM VELOCITY
• "Precool switch to PRECOOL." 4,000 MPH
• "Igniter idle ON." DESIGN ALTITUDE - 47 MILES
At 10 seconds-
• "Pump idle ON." STRUCTURAL TEMPERATURE TO REACH
1, 200 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT
At 5 seconds-
• "Launch light ON. "
The B-52 pilot moves the master arming switch to ON. AIRCRAFT WEIGHT, LB
The X-I5 pilot is in his radio countdown: LAUNCH 33,000
LANDING 14,700
"3 - 2 -I-LAUNCH!" --22.6'

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The 8-52 in flight with the X-15 under its wing.

The three hooks that support the X-15 open. The As the X-15 continues on its ballistic path, the pilot
X-IS drops rapidly away. becomes weightless. This experience contrasts sharply
The X-15 pilot opens the throttle of the 57,000- with what he felt when the engine was still firing and
pound-thrust rocket engine. He pulls back the stick. he was pressed hard into his seat by the force of 3.6G.
In an 84-second surge of power reaching more than With little atmosphere surrounding the craft, he
500,000 horsepower, the X-15 accelerates from 600 to knows its conventional aerodynamic controls have no
more than 4,000 miles an hour, and climbs steeply to
effect. So he uses the hydrogen peroxide jets set in the
150,000 feet. The fuel gone now, momentum drives
nose and wings. To point the plane downward, for ex-
the aircraft in a ballistic arc up to 314,750 feet (more
ample, he uses the jets on top of the nose. He maneu-
than 59 miles), above all but a minute trace of the
vers the X-15 in the near vacuum of space where no
earth's atmosphere.
The sky shades to dark blue. The pilot sees the conventional airplane could fly.
horizon a a curve, and can make out in one sweeping Ahead lies a critical part of his flight mission-reentry
glance Monterey Bay and part of the Gulf of California, into the earth's atmosphere. Any object entering this
2 which are some 500 ground miles apart. atmosphere from space at high speed is subjected to air
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friction, acceleration, and dynamic pressure that build ture pops like a hot stove. Gravity forces becomes so
up tremendous heat. The X-1S outer structure is made great that the pilot finds arm movement of the center
of Inconel X, a nickel-steel alloy that withstands tem- control stick extremely difficult, and he keeps the plane
peratures up to 1,200° F. But entry heating could ex- on course with a hand- and wrist-controlled side stick.
ceed that temperature, and the combination of thermal Despite the extreme heat on the outer skin, tempera-
and air loads might cause some structural failure unless tures in the pilot's cabin and the instrument compart-
it descended precisely along a predetermined path. ment remain comfortable. This condition is the result
As the black craft pierces increasingly thicker atmos- of a specially constructed system in which liquid nitro-
phere, its stubby wings grow dull cherry red and its struc- gen at 300 0 below zero F. is used.
The X-1S drops free.

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MAX . DYNAMIC PRESSURE CLIMB ANGLE 35
(THAT IS. PRESSURE CAUSED BY
MOVEMENT THROUGH THE ATMOSPHERE)
1.000 lBS . PER SO. fT .

4 Flight profile of the X-1S.


As atmospheric density increases, the pilot again uses ment while building a fund of increasing pilot experi-
aerodynamic controls. Sometimes here he also uses the ence.
hydrogen peroxide jet system. Part airplane, part spacecraft, the X-IS is the only
Ahead, he sees his landing field, the flat expanse of vehicle of its kind in the world. It is 50 feet long, 22.6
Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards, Calif., some 200 miles feet wide, and 13 feet high. It is a winged vehicle con-
from the starting point of his launch. To slow the trolled by a pilot on board. Intended solely for re-
plane, he opens speed brakes near the tail. About 2 search, it serves as a proving vehicle for theories de-
miles from touchdown, he jettisons the ventral fin ex- veloped by such techniques as mathematical computa-
tending under the tail (this fin has contributed to sta- tions and wind tunnel tests.
bility during high-speed flight but would interfere with Until now, X-15 flights have produced much infor-
landing) and lowers hi landing gear-a conventional mation needed in designing high-altitude hypersonic
nose wheel and two steel skids toward the rear.
Skids down, nose up, fuel spent, the X-15
The pilot touches down at about 210 miles an hour. streaks in for a dry lake bed landing.
He lands nose high, the skids hitting the ground first,
but almost immediately the nose gear touches. The
plane comes to a stop almost a mile across the lake bed
from the touchdown point.
Besides breaking world speed and altitude records for
aircraft, the rocket-powered X-15 has also already sur-
passed its own design speed of 4,000 m.p.h. and design
altitude of 250,000 feet. It has flown faster than 4,100
m.p.h. and higher than 314,000 feet-and it can be ex-
pected to go higher.
But the setting of speed and altitude records is not
the real purpose of the X-IS. The program procedure
followed has been generally to increase the speed and
the altitude of flights on an "incremental performance"
basis. That is, flights were designed to reach increas-
ingly higher speeds or altitudes to permit the taking of
practical-size "bites" of data on the hypersonic environ-

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6 71490 0 - 63 - 2
operational aircraft. They have provided a great
amount of data on the physiological and psychological
reactions of men to space Right and to the piloting of
high-speed, high-altitude aircraft. They have helped
tremendously in space sciences programs.
The pilot plays the key role in every X-15 flight.
He not only carries out the programmed tests but also
uses his judgment and experience in solving unantici-
pated problems. His observation and judgment add to,
interpret, and enrich the data gathered by the plane's
research instruments.
How do we get information from X-15 flights? What
kind of information is it?
During each flight, instruments in the airplane and
inside the pilot's pressure suit transmit to ground sta-
tions a constant stream of data on aircraft operation and
the pilot's physiological condition. Data on the X-15
include readings on aerodynamic heating and stress on
structure, powerplant behavior, electrical system opera-
tion, stability, and control. Pilot checks cover such
measurements as heart action, body temperature, radia-
tion, respiration, and pulse. The pilot's own observa-
tions supplement and clarify instrument data. Infor-
mation from each flight is completely documented for
later analysis.
Three ground radar stations-at Ely and Beatty, Nev.,
and Edwards, Calif.-receive the flight data. The
X-15 is always within range of at least one of these
stations.
At the NASA Flight Research Center Radio Station,
Edwards Air Force Base, research engineers closely

Copyright 1962, National Geographic Society . Painted by Robert W.


6 Nicholson, Staff Artist. Reproduced by Special Permissi o n.
watch aircraft performance, and a physician checks A careful step-by-step program has been followed in
data on the pilot. If anything seems amiss, the pilot is bringing the X-15 safely up to design performance.
notified and alternate procedures are recommended. The plane was first airlifted in "captive" flights in which
Thus, in a sense, skilled research engineers and a capable it did not separate from the B-52. Then came a power-
flight surgeon accompany the X-IS pilot on every less glide flight to check control and landing, and finally
mISSIOn. the powered flights at gradually increased speeds and
This is one of many measures to assure pilot safety. altitudes.
His instrument panel also alerts him to danger. Green Since June 1959, when the first planned glide flight
lights tell him that everything i working right. If a was made, 74 flights have re ulted from 126 attempts.
green light winks off and a harsh orange light comes on, Pilot Walker being zipped into his inner flight suit,
the pilot at once knows what is wrong and can act ac- which will air-condition him and protect him against G
cordingly. For example, an orange light warns him forces and decompression.

that pressure at the fuel pump is too low to run the en-
gine at full thrust. Appropriate action: the pilot re-
duces thrust.
The pilot's pressure suit inflates automatically if cock-
pit pressure fails. This suit has its own atmosphere and
in effect becomes a pressurized cabin.
In extreme emergency, a rocket-powered ejection seat
would hurl the pilot free of the airplane-at speeds up
to four times that of sound. Folding fins and telescopic
booms prevent dangerous tumbling during catapult and
stabilize the seat. At a safe altitude, a timer would
open the pilot's parachute and release the seat.
Safety factors were high among the considerations
that determined locating the X-15 High Range (flight
corridor), which stretches across the Mojave Desert be-
tween Wendover, Utah, and Edwards, Calif. This area
is dotted with many level dry lake beds, in reach for
emergency landings. 7
("Attempt" here means any case when the B-S2 carry- One important advantage sought in the new X-IS
ing the X-IS goes aloft and an X-IS drop is intended.) project is the pilot's ability to orient the aircraft with
The flights have been m?-de by seven pilots-three respect to the stars above the ozone layer and the capa-
civilian NASA research pilots, two Air Force pilots, one bility of the aircraft to return to that altitude and repeat
Navy pilot, and one commercial pilot during contractor the experiment.
demonstration trials. For these flights, new instrumentation has been in-
In a "follow-on" research program announced by stalled in the X- 15. It consists of a platform with four
NASA in April 1962, the X-IS assumed an additional cameras, mounted in the instrument bay behind the
role as a "service" airplane for carrying out new experi- pilot's cockpit. Clamshell doors covering the bay can
ments in aeronautical and space sciences. This pro- be opened by a cockpit control as the X-15 leaves the
gram is based on X-IS capacity for extremely high atmosphere. The pilot then maneuvers the X-IS into
speeds and for altitudes beyond the earth's atmosphere. the right position to photograph a target star. As the
To get maximum information from each flight, data plane follows its ballistic trajectory "over the top," the
for some of the new studies will be gathered during cameras can take a continuous series of photographs in
flights already scheduled. The X - IS will carry addi- different ultraviolet wavelengths.
tional equipment for that purpose. Photographs have been taken in the past from sound-
One new project on which work began at once was ing rockets, but the spinning action these rockets require
an experiment in ultraviolet stellar photography. On for stabilization usually prevents precise orientation for
earth and at the lower altitudes ultraviolet rays of the selected targets. Occasionally, too, the photo infor-
stars are obscured by ozone in the earth's atmosphere. mation is lost when the payload is not recovered after
The Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO), one the shot.
of NASA's major projects, is designed to take stellar By a similar method, a horizon scanner studies light
photographs as it orbits the earth far above the dis- across the spectrum. The object here is to gather in-
torting atmosphere. The X - IS mission includes a sup- formation on means of accurate sensing and to develop
porting role in the stellar photography program, as a improved attitude and guidance references for earth-
forerunner of OAO and as a flying test bed to check out orbiting spacecraft.
the kind of equipment used in OAO. Now planned An alphatron ionization gauge mounted in a small
is a series of X-IS stellar photographic flights to alti- wingtip pod measures atmosphere density above 100,000
tudes above 40 miles, to supplement OAO work in a feet. A similar pod houses equipment for measuring
study of the origin and composition of the stars. micrometeorites. In several other experiments infrared
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I and untraviolt data at the extremes of the X-IS's higher visory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which
altitude capability will be investigated. later formed the nucleus of the National Aeronautics
II The program also includes evaluation of advanced and Space Administration (NASA), directed its labora-
vehicle systems and structural materials. An electric tories to begin studies of manned hyper onic flight at
stick controller will be tested for possible application in high altitudes. In May 1954, NACA established per-
manned spacecraft. formance requirements for a research craft that would
The X-1S is the harvest of ideas and work extending assist in these studies.
over the last decade. In May 1952 the National Ad-

Technicians assist Maj. Robert A. Rushworth with his helmet after an X-15 flight.

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In July 1954, representatives of NACA, the Air Force, 1960
and the Navy agreed on a joint research airplane pro- NOVEMBER: Contractor flight-tested X-15 with final
gram. In November 1955, North American Aviation, XLR99 57,000-pound-thrust engme.
Inc., was awarded a letter contract to build the three
X-15 airplanes. Subsequent important developments 1961
in the program were: FEBRUARY: Contractor delivered to Government first
X-IS powered by XLR99 engine.
1957
SEPTEMBER : Contractor completed studies, began 1961
building first X-1S. NOVEMBER: Maj. Robert White, U.S. Air Force pilot,
flew X-IS at 4,093 m.p.h., achieving design speed
1958
of the airplane.
OCTOBER: First X-1S completed, delivered for ground
tests to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. 1962
APRIL: Joseph A. Walker, NASA pilot, flew X-1S to
1959 altitude of 246,700 feet, achieving design altitude.
MARCH: First "captive" flight of X-IS (plane re-
mained attached to B-S2 carrier craft during entire 1962
flight) . J UNE : Pilot Walker flew X-IS at 4,104 m.p.h., sur-
1959 passing all previous speeds.
J UNE : First glide flight of X-IS. 1962
JULY: Pilot White flew X-IS to an altitude of 314,7S0
1959 feet, qualifying himself as an "astronaut," a NASA
SEPTEMBER : First powered flight, with two interim and military designation for pilots who have made
engines generating 16,000 pounds thrust. flights above SO miles in altitude.

1960 Future
FEBRUARY: Contractor, after successfully completing X-IS is used as a platform for conducting scientific
flight tests, delivered first X-IS to NASA, Air Force, experiments at high altitudes and hypersonic speeds
and Navy. on a repeatable basis.
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The X-1S pilots: (begin
lower left and clockwise) Maj.
Robert A. Rushworth, USAF;
Maj. Robert M. White, USAF;
Milton O. Thompson, NASA;
Joseph A. Walker, NASA;
and John B. McKay, NASA.

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X-15 FLIGHT LOG
Maximum
Flight --Speed-- Altitude
Date Number * Pilot Mach No . M .P.H . (in feet) Remarks

6- 8-59 1-1-5 Crossfield .79 522 37,550 Planned glide flight.


9-17-59 2-1-3 2.11 1 ,393 52,341 First powered flight .
10-17-59 2-2-6 2.15 1,419 61 ,781
11- 5-59 2-3-9 1.00 660 45,462 Engine fire; fuselage structural failure on
landing .
1-23-60 1-2-7 2 .53 1 ,669 66,844
2-11-60 2-4-11 2.22 1,466 88 ,116
2-17~0 2-5-12 1 .57 1 ,036 42 ,640
3-17-60 2-6-13 2 .15 1 ,419 52,640
3-25~0 1-3-8 Walker 2.00 1, 320 48,630 First Govt. flight.
3-29-60 2-7-15 Crossfield 1 .96 1 ,293 49,982
3-31-60 2-8-16 2 .03 1 ,340 51,356
4-13~0 1-4-9 White 1 .94 1 ,255 48 ,000
4-19-60 1-5-10 Walker 2 .56 1 ,689 59,496
5- 6-60 1-6-11 White 2 .20 1,452 60,938
5-12-60 1-7-12 Walker 3.19 2 ,111 77 ,882
5-19~0 1-8-13 White 2.31 1,590 108,997
5-2~0 2-9-18 Crossfield 2 .20 1,452 51,282
8- 4-60 1-9-17 Walker 3.31 2 ,196 78,112
8-12-60 1-10-19 White 2 .52 1 ,772 136,500
8-19-60 1-11-21 Walker 3.13 1 ,986 75 ,982
9-10~0 1-12-23 White 3.23 2,182 79,864
9-23~0 1-13-25 Petersen 1 .68 1 ,108 53 ,043
10-20-60 1-14-27 1 .94 1 ,280 53 ,800
10-28~0 1-15-28 McKay 2.02 1,333 50,700
11- 4-60 1-16-29 Rushworth 1.95 1 ,282 48 ,900
11-15-60 2-10-21 Crossfield 2.97 1 ,960 81 ,200 First flight with XLR99 design engine .
11-17-60 1-17-30 Rushworth 1 .90 1,254 54,750
11-22-60 2-11-22 Crossfield 2 .51 1 ,656 61 ,900 First restart with XLR99 design engine.
11-3~0 1-18-31 Armstrong 1 .75 1,155 48 ,840
12- 6-60 2-12-23 Crossfield 2.85 1,881 53 ,374
12- 9~0 1-19-32 Armstrong 1 .80 1 ,188 50,095
2- 1-61 1-20-35 McKay 1 .88 1 ,242 49,780
2- 7~1 1-21-36 White 3.50 2 ,275 78 ,150 Last LR11 flight .
3- 7-61 2-13-26 4.43 2,905 77,450 First Govt. XLR99 flight.
3-3~1 2-14-28 Walker 3.95 2 ,760 169,600
4-21-61 2-15-29 White 4 .62 3,074 105,000
12 5-25-61 2-16-31 Walker 4 .90 3,300 107,500
6-23-61 2-17-33 White 5.27 3,603 107,700
8-1~1 1-22-37 Petersen 4 .11 2 ,735 78,200
See fo otnote a t end of ta ble. u. S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE : 1963 0 - 671490

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X-1S FLIGHT LOG-Continued
Maximum
Flight --Speed-- Altitude
Date Number * Pilot Mach No. M .P.H. (in feet) Remarks

9-12-61 2-18-34 Walker 5.25 3,614 114,300


9-28-61 2- 19-35 Petersen 5.30 3,600 100,800
10- 4-61 1-23-39 Rushworth 4 .30 2,830 78,000 Flight made wilh lower ventral off.
10-11-61 2-20-36 White 5 .21 3,647 217,000 Outer panel of left windshield cracked.
10-17-61 1-24-40 Walker 5.74 3,900 108,600
11- 9-61 2-21-37 White 6.04 4,093 101,600 Design speed achieved .
12-20-61 3-1-2 Armslrong 3.76 2,502 81 ,000 First flight for X-15 No.3 .
1-10-62 1-25-44 Petersen .97 645 44,750 Emergency landing on Mud Lake afte
engine failed to light .
1-17-62 3-2-3 Armstrong 5.51 3,765 133,500
4- 5-62 3-3-7 " 4 .06 2,830 179,000
4-19-62 1-26-46 Walker 5.69 3,866 154,000
4-20-62 3-4- 8 Armstrong 5.31 3,789 207,500
4-30-62 1-27-48 Walker 4 .94 3,489 246,700 Design alt. flight.
5- 8-62 2-22-40 Rushworth 5.34 3.524 70,400
5-22-62 1-28-49 " 5.03 3,450 100,400
6- 1-62 2-23-43 White 5.42 3,675 132,600
6- 7-62 1-29-50 Walker 5.39 3,672 103,600
6-12-62 3-5-9 White 5.02 3,517 184,600
6-21-62 3-6-10 " 5.08 3,641 246,700
6-27-62 1-30-51 Walker 5.92 4,105 123,700 Highest speed achieved.
6-29-62 2-24-44 McKay 4 .95 3,280 83,200
7-16-62 1-31-52 Walker 5.48 3,733 107,000
7-17-62 3-7-12 White 5.04 3,784 314,750 FAI world alt. record .
7-19-62 2-25-45 McKay 5.11 3,375 84,500
7-26-62 1-32-53 Armstrong 5.82 3,954 100,000
8- 2-62 3-8-16 Walker 4.99 3,443 107,000
8- 8-62 2-26-46 Rushworth 4 .39 2,898 90,000
8-14-62 3-9-18 Walker 5.13 3,784 197,000
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8-20-62 2-27-47 Rushworth 5.22 3,443 87,000
8-29-62 2-28-48 " 5.21 3,443 97,000
9-28-62 2-29-50 McKay 4.08 2,693 67,000
10- 4-62 3-10-19 Rushworth 4 .91 3,375 106,000
10- 9-62 2-30-51 McKay 5.38 3,716 129,000
10-23-62 3-11-20 Rushworth 5.57 3,818 134,000
11- 9-62 2-31-53 McKay .95 620 45,200 Emergency landing on Rogers Dry Lake
after engine power failure. Plane badl y
damaged by skid .

* Flight aclivity code: First number is X-15 airplane number. Second number is flight number for lhe specified airplane
Third number is X-15 /B-52 airborne mission number.
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION

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