THE ¥-15

R E S E A B C B ~
AIRPLANE
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
THE ¥-tS
R E E ABC 8=---=-----=
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.
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
IT IS 1 MINUTE to zero in an X-15 countdown that be-
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-
• "Precool switch to PRECOOL."
• "Igniter idle ON. "
At 10 seconds-
• "Pump idle ON. "
At 5 seconds-
• "Launch light ON. "
The B-52 pilot moves the master arming switch to ON.
The X-I5 pilot is in his radio countdown:
"3 - 2 -I-LAUNCH!"
--22.6'
X-1S RESEARCH AIRPLANE
DESIGN MAXIMUM VELOCITY
4,000 MPH
DESIGN ALTITUDE - 47 MILES
STRUCTURAL TEMPERATURE TO REACH
1, 200 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT
AIRCRAFT WEIGHT, LB
LAUNCH 33,000
LANDING 14,700
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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
X-IS drops rapidly away.
The X-15 pilot opens the throttle of the 57,000-
pound-thrust rocket engine. He pulls back the stick.
In an 84-second surge of power reaching more than
500,000 horsepower, the X-15 accelerates from 600 to
more than 4,000 miles an hour, and climbs steeply to
150,000 feet. The fuel gone now, momentum drives
the aircraft in a ballistic arc up to 314,750 feet (more
than 59 miles), above all but a minute trace of the
earth's atmosphere.
The sky shades to dark blue. The pilot sees the
horizon a a curve, and can make out in one sweeping
glance Monterey Bay and part of the Gulf of California,
which are some 500 ground miles apart.
As the X-15 continues on its ballistic path, the pilot
becomes weightless. This experience contrasts sharply
with what he felt when the engine was still firing and
he was pressed hard into his seat by the force of 3.6G.
With little atmosphere surrounding the craft, he
knows its conventional aerodynamic controls have no
effect. So he uses the hydrogen peroxide jets set in the
nose and wings. To point the plane downward, for ex-
ample, he uses the jets on top of the nose. He maneu-
vers the X-15 in the near vacuum of space where no
conventional airplane could fly.
Ahead lies a critical part of his flight mission-reentry
into the earth's atmosphere. Any object entering this
atmosphere from space at high speed is subjected to air
r
friction, acceleration, and dynamic pressure that build
up tremendous heat. The X-1S outer structure is made
of Inconel X, a nickel-steel alloy that withstands tem-
peratures up to 1,200° F. But entry heating could ex-
ceed that temperature, and the combination of thermal
and air loads might cause some structural failure unless
it descended precisely along a predetermined path.
As the black craft pierces increasingly thicker atmos-
phere, its stubby wings grow dull cherry red and its struc-
ture pops like a hot stove. Gravity forces becomes so
great that the pilot finds arm movement of the center
control stick extremely difficult, and he keeps the plane
on course with a hand- and wrist-controlled side stick.
Despite the extreme heat on the outer skin, tempera-
tures in the pilot's cabin and the instrument compart-
ment remain comfortable. This condition is the result
of a specially constructed system in which liquid nitro-
gen at 300
0
below zero F. is used.
The X-1S drops free.
3
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MAX. DYNAMIC PRESSURE
(THAT IS. PRESSURE CAUSED BY
MOVEMENT THROUGH THE ATMOSPHERE)
1.000 lBS. PER SO. fT.
CLIMB ANGLE 35
Flight profile of the X-1S.
As atmospheric density increases, the pilot again uses
aerodynamic controls. Sometimes here he also uses the
hydrogen peroxide jet system.
Ahead, he sees his landing field, the flat expanse of
Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards, Calif., some 200 miles
from the starting point of his launch. To slow the
plane, he opens speed brakes near the tail. About 2
miles from touchdown, he jettisons the ventral fin ex-
tending under the tail (this fin has contributed to sta-
bility during high-speed flight but would interfere with
landing) and lowers hi landing gear-a conventional
nose wheel and two steel skids toward the rear.
The pilot touches down at about 210 miles an hour.
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-
671490 0 - 63 - 2
ment while building a fund of increasing pilot experi-
ence.
Part airplane, part spacecraft, the X-IS is the only
vehicle of its kind in the world. It is 50 feet long, 22.6
feet wide, and 13 feet high. It is a winged vehicle con-
trolled by a pilot on board. Intended solely for re-
search, it serves as a proving vehicle for theories de-
veloped by such techniques as mathematical computa-
tions and wind tunnel tests.
Until now, X-15 flights have produced much infor-
mation needed in designing high-altitude hypersonic
Skids down, nose up, fuel spent, the X-15
streaks in for a dry lake bed landing.
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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.
Nicholson, Staff Artist. Reproduced by Special Permissi on.
watch aircraft performance, and a physician checks
data on the pilot. If anything seems amiss, the pilot is
notified and alternate procedures are recommended.
Thus, in a sense, skilled research engineers and a capable
flight surgeon accompany the X-IS pilot on every
mISSIOn.
This is one of many measures to assure pilot safety.
His instrument panel also alerts him to danger. Green
lights tell him that everything i working right. If a
green light winks off and a harsh orange light comes on,
the pilot at once knows what is wrong and can act ac-
cordingly. For example, an orange light warns him
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.
A careful step-by-step program has been followed in
bringing the X-15 safely up to design performance.
The plane was first airlifted in "captive" flights in which
it did not separate from the B-52. Then came a power-
less glide flight to check control and landing, and finally
the powered flights at gradually increased speeds and
altitudes.
Since June 1959, when the first planned glide flight
was made, 74 flights have re ulted from 126 attempts.
Pilot Walker being zipped into his inner flight suit,
which will air-condition him and protect him against G
forces and decompression.
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("Attempt" here means any case when the B-S2 carry-
ing the X-IS goes aloft and an X-IS drop is intended.)
The flights have been m?-de by seven pilots-three
civilian NASA research pilots, two Air Force pilots, one
Navy pilot, and one commercial pilot during contractor
demonstration trials.
In a "follow-on" research program announced by
NASA in April 1962, the X-IS assumed an additional
role as a "service" airplane for carrying out new experi-
ments in aeronautical and space sciences. This pro-
gram is based on X-IS capacity for extremely high
speeds and for altitudes beyond the earth's atmosphere.
To get maximum information from each flight, data
for some of the new studies will be gathered during
flights already scheduled. The X- IS will carry addi-
tional equipment for that purpose.
One new project on which work began at once was
an experiment in ultraviolet stellar photography. On
earth and at the lower altitudes ultraviolet rays of the
stars are obscured by ozone in the earth's atmosphere.
The Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO), one
of NASA's major projects, is designed to take stellar
photographs as it orbits the earth far above the dis-
torting atmosphere. The X- IS mission includes a sup-
porting role in the stellar photography program, as a
forerunner of OAO and as a flying test bed to check out
the kind of equipment used in OAO. Now planned
is a series of X-IS stellar photographic flights to alti-
tudes above 40 miles, to supplement OAO work in a
study of the origin and composition of the stars.
One important advantage sought in the new X-IS
project is the pilot's ability to orient the aircraft with
respect to the stars above the ozone layer and the capa-
bility of the aircraft to return to that altitude and repeat
the experiment.
For these flights, new instrumentation has been in-
stalled in the X- 15. It consists of a platform with four
cameras, mounted in the instrument bay behind the
pilot's cockpit. Clamshell doors covering the bay can
be opened by a cockpit control as the X-15 leaves the
atmosphere. The pilot then maneuvers the X-IS into
the right position to photograph a target star. As the
plane follows its ballistic trajectory "over the top," the
cameras can take a continuous series of photographs in
different ultraviolet wavelengths.
Photographs have been taken in the past from sound-
ing rockets, but the spinning action these rockets require
for stabilization usually prevents precise orientation for
selected targets. Occasionally, too, the photo infor-
mation is lost when the payload is not recovered after
the shot.
By a similar method, a horizon scanner studies light
across the spectrum. The object here is to gather in-
formation on means of accurate sensing and to develop
improved attitude and guidance references for earth-
orbiting spacecraft.
An alphatron ionization gauge mounted in a small
wingtip pod measures atmosphere density above 100,000
feet. A similar pod houses equipment for measuring
micrometeorites. In several other experiments infrared
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and untraviolt data at the extremes of the X-IS's higher
altitude capability will be investigated.
The program also includes evaluation of advanced
vehicle systems and structural materials. An electric
stick controller will be tested for possible application in
manned spacecraft.
The X-1S is the harvest of ideas and work extending
over the last decade. In May 1952 the National Ad-
visory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which
later formed the nucleus of the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA), directed its labora-
tories to begin studies of manned hyper onic flight at
high altitudes. In May 1954, NACA established per-
formance requirements for a research craft that would
assist in these studies.
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,
and the Navy agreed on a joint research airplane pro-
gram. In November 1955, North American Aviation,
Inc., was awarded a letter contract to build the three
X-15 airplanes. Subsequent important developments
in the program were:
1957
SEPTEMBER: Contractor completed studies, began
building first X-1S.
1958
OCTOBER: First X-1S completed, delivered for ground
tests to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
1959
MARCH: First "captive" flight of X-IS (plane re-
mained attached to B-S2 carrier craft during entire
flight) .
1959
J UNE : First glide flight of X-IS.
1959
SEPTEMBER : First powered flight, with two interim
engines generating 16,000 pounds thrust.
1960
FEBRUARY: Contractor, after successfully completing
flight tests, delivered first X-IS to NASA, Air Force,
and Navy.
1960
NOVEMBER: Contractor flight-tested X-15 with final
XLR99 57,000-pound-thrust engme.
1961
FEBRUARY: Contractor delivered to Government first
X-IS powered by XLR99 engine.
1961
NOVEMBER: Maj. Robert White, U.S. Air Force pilot,
flew X-IS at 4,093 m.p.h., achieving design speed
of the airplane.
1962
APRIL: Joseph A. Walker, NASA pilot, flew X-1S to
altitude of 246,700 feet, achieving design altitude.
1962
J UNE : Pilot Walker flew X-IS at 4,104 m.p.h., sur-
passing all previous speeds.
1962
JULY: Pilot White flew X-IS to an altitude of 314,7S0
feet, qualifying himself as an "astronaut," a NASA
and military designation for pilots who have made
flights above SO miles in altitude.
Future
X-IS is used as a platform for conducting scientific
experiments at high altitudes and hypersonic speeds
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
2-5-12 1.57 1 ,036 42,640
3-17-60 2-6-13 2.15 1 ,419 52,640
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
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
1-8-13 White 2. 31 1,590 108,997
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
1-12-23 White 3.23 2,182 79,864
1-13-25 Petersen 1.68 1,108 53,043
10-20-60 1-14-27 1.94 1,280 53,800
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.
1-18-31 Armstrong 1.75 1,155 48,840
12- 6-60 2-12-23 Crossfield 2.85 1,881 53,374
12- 1-19-32 Armstrong 1.80 1,188 50,095
2- 1-61 1-20-35 McKay 1.88 1,242 49,780
2- 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.
2-14-28 Walker 3.95 2,760 169,600
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4-21-61 2-15-29 White 4.62 3,074 105,000
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
1-22-37 Petersen 4.11 2,735 78,200
See footnote a t end of table.
u. S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE : 1963 0 - 671490
----'
Date
9-12-61
9-28-61
10- 4-61
10-11-61
10-17-61
11- 9-61
12-20-61
1-10-62
1-17-62
4- 5-62
4-19-62
4-20-62
4-30-62
5- 8-62
5-22-62
6- 1-62
6- 7-62
6-12-62
6-21-62
6-27-62
6-29-62
7-16-62
7-17-62
7-19-62
7-26-62
8- 2-62
8- 8-62
8-14-62
8-20-62
8-29-62
9-28-62
10- 4-62
10- 9-62
10-23-62
11- 9-62
Flight
Number *
2-18-34
2- 19-35
1-23-39
2-20-36
1-24-40
2-21-37
3-1-2
1-25-44
3-2-3
3-3-7
1-26-46
3-4- 8
1-27-48
2-22-40
1-28-49
2-23-43
1-29-50
3-5-9
3-6-10
1-30-51
2-24-44
1-31-52
3-7-12
2-25-45
1-32-53
3-8-16
2-26-46
3-9-18
2-27-47
2-28-48
2-29-50
3-10-19
2-30-51
3-11-20
2-31-53
X-1S FLIGHT LOG-Continued
Maximum
--Speed-- Altitude
Pilot Mach No. M.P.H. (in feet) Remarks
Walker 5.25 3,614 114,300
Petersen 5.30 3,600 100,800
Rushworth 4. 30 2,830 78,000 Flight made wilh lower ventral off.
White 5.21 3,647 217,000 Outer panel of left windshield cracked.
Walker 5.74 3,900 108,600
White 6.04 4,093 101,600 Design speed achieved.
Armslrong 3.76 2,502 81 ,000 First flight for X-15 No.3.
Petersen .97 645 44,750 Emergency landing on Mud Lake afte
engine failed to light .
Armstrong 5.51 3,765 133,500
" 4.06 2,830 179,000
Walker 5.69 3,866 154,000
Armstrong 5.31 3,789 207,500
Walker 4.94 3,489 246,700 Design alt. flight.
Rushworth 5.34 3.524 70,400
" 5.03 3,450 100,400
White 5.42 3,675 132,600
Walker 5.39 3,672 103,600
White 5.02 3,517 184,600
" 5.08 3,641 246,700
Walker 5.92 4,105 123,700 Highest speed achieved.
McKay 4.95 3,280 83,200
Walker 5.48 3,733 107,000
White 5.04 3,784 314,750 FAI world alt. record.
McKay 5.11 3, 375 84,500
Armstrong 5.82 3,954 100,000
Walker 4.99 3,443 107,000
Rushworth 4.39 2,898 90,000
Walker 5.13 3,784 197,000
Rushworth 5.22 3,443 87,000
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" 5.21 3,443 97,000
McKay 4.08 2,693 67,000
Rushworth 4.91 3,375 106,000
McKay 5.38 3,716 129,000
Rushworth 5.57 3,818 134,000
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
For sale by the Superintenrlent of Documents\ U.S. Government Printing Office
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