X-15 The Ultimate Flying Machine

“It was the ultimate flying machine, No airplane can live up to what the X-15 did.” That’s what retired test pilot and astronaut Joe Engle said of the first real space plane and 50 years after its record-breaking flight of 3rd October 1967 when USAF test pilot William J. Knight achieved a top speed of MACH 6.72, 4519 mph or 7273 km/h, It’s still the fastest manned powered aircraft.

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And if you thought the SR71 blackbird was the fastest jet, then you absolutely correct because the X-15 wasn’t a jet, it was rocket powered single seater aircraft which looked a bit like an oversized dart and had to launched from the underside of a modified B-52 at 45,000 feet, because the XLR-99 rocket engine would burn through all of it’s fuel in just 2 minutes.
Not only did the X-15 set speed records it also went past the point of where space officially starts at 100km, 62.1 miles on two occasions, both times piloted by Joseph A Walker at 105.9km, 347,000 feet and 107.8km 353,000 feet.
Although in the 1960’s the USAF considered space to start at 80km or 50 miles. Any crew that flew over the 50-mile limit where given Astronaut badges, 13 of the X-15 flights went higher than this and two of the pilots, Neil Armstrong and Joe Engle went on the become fully fledged Astronauts in the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.

But apart from being a record-breaking aircraft, Research from the X-15 program lead to things like the first full pressure suit that would work in space, the first use of reaction controls, those are the little jets that position a spacecraft in space, the first use of superalloys in the planes structure that could withstand the heat of hypersonic re-entry and the Development of the first large restartable throttleable rocket engine, the XLR99.
These are a small selection of the developments and discoveries that would go on to contribute to later space programs including Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and the Space Shuttle.

In the early 1950’s, research which had started with the Bell X-1, the 1st supersonic plane, began looking in to the problems that would be encountered by spaceflight.
At the time it was still unknown as to what would happen to the stability as well as other issues of the craft, when travelling at hypersonic speeds, that’s between Mach 5 to Mach 10, or between about 3800 and 7,700 mph ( 6,200 to 12,400 km/h). This would be the type of speed that would be required to get to the edge of space and the re-entry.
In 1952 the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (N.A.C.A), NASA’s predecessor started looking into the problems and by 1954 they had contacted both the US Navy and Airforce to propose building a research aircraft which would become the X-15.
By 1956 the contract for the airframe had gone to North American Aviation and the rocket engine was to be built by Reaction Motors.
After the contract had been awarded to North American and before the launch of Sputnik in Oct 1957, North American had considered making an X-15B orbital space plane that could carry a crew of two by launching it in to a low earth orbit on top of a pair of SM-64 Navaho missile boosters.
If this had been done, it could have predated the Space shuttle by over 20 years…..

Galaxy 2004 The Long Way by Frank Dorittke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/)
Source: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Frank_Dorittke/Mare_Tranquillitatis/pcr018_cd02_03_fd_project_galaxy_2004_the_long_way

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