Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The X-15, its test pilot, and fast planes

According to CBS news,
Scott Crossfield, the first man to fly at twice the speed of sound, routinely climbed into some of the most powerful, dangerous and complex aircraft of his time.

This week, the 84-year-old Crossfield was piloting a single-engine Cessna 210A when it dropped off radar screens on a flight from Alabama to Virginia. His body was found in wreckage Thursday in the mountains about 50 miles northwest of Atlanta, authorities said.

I looked up Crossfield and found this on the Edwards Airforce Base website:

On Nov. 20, 1953, (Crossfield) became the first man to fly at twice the speed of sound as he piloted the Skyrocket to a speed of 1,291 mph (Mach 2.005). With 99 flights in the rocket-powered X-1 and D-558-II, he had — by a wide margin — more experience with rocketplanes than any other pilot in the world by the time he left Edwards to join North American Aviation in 1955. As North American's chief engineering test pilot, he played a major role in the design and development of the X-15 and its systems.

On June 8, 1959, he completed the airplane's first flight, an unpowered glide from 37,550 feet. On Sept. 17, 1959, he completed the first powered flight. Shortly after launch on his third flight, one of these engines exploded. Crossfield was forced to make an emergency landing during which the excessive load on the aircraft broke its back just behind the cockpit. He was uninjured and the airplane was repaired.

He went on to complete 16 captive carry (mated to the B-52 launch aircraft), one glide and 13 powered flights in the X-15. On Dec. 6, 1960, he brought North American's demonstration program to a successful conclusion as he completed his final flight in the X-15.

How fast did Crossfield go versus other test pilots? Here's a good listing I found with top airplane speeds. According to this list, Crossfield is at the top, if he piloted the X-15 to Mach 6.72 (that's incredibly fast!) The X-43 is the new NASA scramjet.

All of these are pretty darn fast. It's funny that except for the X-43, the other very fast planes are designs of the 1950s and 1960s.

1. X-43 (Unmanned) Mach 9.8 110,000 feet
2. X-15 Mach 6.72 354,200 feet
3. SR-71 Blackbird (YF-12) Mach 3.2+ 85,000+ feet
4. MiG-25R Foxbat-B Mach 3.2 123,524 feet
4. X-2 Mach 3.2 126,200 feet
5. XB-70 Valkyrie Mach 3.1 77,350 feet
6. MiG-31 Foxhound Mach 2.83 67,600 feet
7. MiG-25 Foxbat (Ye-155) Mach 2.8 118,900 feet
8. F-15 Eagle Mach 2.5 60,000 feet
8. F-111 Aardvark Mach 2.5 60,000+ feet
9. X-1 Mach 2.435 90,440 feet
10. Su-24 Fencer Mach 2.4 57,400 feet
11. Tu-144 Charger Mach 2.35 59,055 feet
11. MiG-23 Flogger Mach 2.35 60,700 feet
11. Su-27 Flanker Mach 2.35 59,055 feet
12. F-14A Tomcat Mach 2.34 58,000+ feet
13. F-106 Delta Dart Mach 2.31 57,000 feet
14. IAI Kfir Mach 2.3 75,000 feet
14. English Electric Lightning Mach 2.3 60,000 feet
14. MiG-29 Fulcrum Mach 2.3 59,060 feet
14. F-107 Ultra Sabre Mach 2.3 48,000 feet
15. Tornado ADV Mach 2.2 69,997 feet
15. F-4 Phantom Mach 2.2 62,250 feet
15. Mirage 2000 Mach 2.2 59,055 feet
15. F-104 Starfighter Mach 2.2 58,000 feet
(120,800 feet NF-104A)


jb zimmerman said...

A quick note - in addition to being the second fastest airplane on that list, the X-15, at > 50 miles, qualifies its pilot for astronaut wings.

Anonymous said...

He published a book on bad-weather flying ( "Severe Weather Flying: Increase Your Knowledge and Skill in Avoidance of Thunderstorms, Icing, and Extreme Weather" )in 2002, before his final flight into bad weather last week. Although Chuck Yeager had unkind comments about him, he defied the old adage that there were no old, bold pilots.

Anonymous said...

Crossfield was a great research pilot, although in the X-15, his fastest flight was at 1,960 mph or Mach 2.97 and his highest flight topped out at 88,116 ft. The fastest flight of the program was completed by Pete Knight at Mach 6.7. This was not the highest altitude shot of the X-15, though, it was won by Joe Walker at 354,200 ft. in August 1963. Taken from "Hypersonic," the story of the X-15.