22 August 1963: On his twenty-fifth and last flight with the X-15 program, NASA Chief Research Test Pilot Joseph Albert Walker would attempt a flight to Maximum Altitude. Engineers had predicted that the X-15 was capable of reaching 400,000 feet (121,920 meters) but simulations had shown that a safe reentry from that altitude was risky. For this flight, Flight 91, the flight plan called for 360,000 feet (109,728 meters) to give Walker a safety margin. Experience had shown that slight variations in engine thrust and climb angle could cause large overshoots in peak altitude, so this was not considered an excessive safety margin.
For this flight, Joe Walker flew the Number 3 X-15, 56-6672. It was the only one of the three North American Aviation X-15s equipped with the Honeywell MH-96 flight control system, which had been developed to improve control of the rocketplane outside Earth’s atmosphere. This flight was the twenty-second for Number 3.
Walker and the X-15 were airdropped from the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003, The High and Mighty One, at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) above Smith Ranch Dry Lake, Nevada, about half-way between the city of Reno and the NASA High Range Tracking Station at Ely. Launch time was 10:05:57.0 a.m., PDT. Walker ignited the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine. This engine was rated at 57,000 pounds of thrust. Experience had shown that different engines varied from flight to flight and that atmospheric conditions were a factor. Thrust beyond 60,000 pounds was often seen, but this could not be predicted in advance. The flight plan called for the duration of burn to be 84.5 seconds on this flight. The X-15 climbed at a 45° angle.
As Walker was about to shut down the engine according to plan, it ran out of fuel. The total burn time was 85.8 seconds, just slightly longer than planned.
“At burnout, Joe was passing 176,000 feet [53,645 meters] and traveling at 5,600 feet per second [1,707 meters per second]. He then began the long coast to peak altitude. It would take almost 2 minutes to reach peak altitude after burn out. Two minutes does not seem like a lot of time, but try timing it. Just sit back in your easy chair and count off the seconds. It is almost impossible to believe that you can continue to coast up in altitude for that length of time after the engine burns out. It gives you some feel for how much energy is involved at those speeds. For comparison, when you throw a ball up in the air as hard as you can, it only coasts upward a maximum of 4 or 5 seconds. The X-15 coasted up for 120 seconds.
“The airplane would coast up another 178,000 feet [54,254 meters] during that time to peak out at 354,200 feet. . . .” [107,960 meters]
—At The Edge of Space: The X-15 Flight Program, by Milton O. Thompson, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 1992, Chapter 5 at Page 125.
Joe Walker and the X-15 reached the peak of their ballistic trajectory at 354,200 feet (67.083 miles, 107,960 meters). Walker pitched the nose down to be in the proper attitude for atmospheric reentry. The X-15 decelerated as it hit the atmosphere and Walker experienced as much as 7 Gs. The rocketplane’s aerodynamic control surfaces again became operational as it descended through 95,000 feet (28,956 meters) and Walker leveled at 70,000 feet (21,336 meters). He then glided to a landing on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after 11 minutes, 8.6 seconds of flight.
Flight 91 was the highest flight achieved by any of the X-15s. It was Joe Walker’s second flight into space. His record would stand for the next 41 years.
22 August 1953: After one successful glide flight with Bell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Skip Ziegler, the X-1D rocketplane, serial number 48-1386, was scheduled for its first powered flight with the Air Force project officer, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest.
The Bell X-1D was one of four second-generation X-1 rocketplanes, each designed and built to investigate a different area of supersonic flight. The X-1D was instrumented for aerodynamic heating research.
After being carried to altitude by the Boeing EB-50A Superfortress mothership, Pete Everest saw that the rocketplane’s nitrogen pressure was dropping. (Pressurized nitrogen was used to push the ethyl alcohol/liquid oxygen propellant to the Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 engine.) With insufficient pressure, the X-1D’s flight had to be cancelled. Everest tried to jettison the fuel so that a landing could be made safely. There was an internal explosion.
Fearing that a larger explosion or fire would jeopardize the bomber and its crew, Everest abandoned the X-1D, climbing up into the bomber. The X-1 was then dropped. It crashed onto the desert floor and exploded.
At first it was assumed that vapors from a fuel leak had exploded from contact with an electrical source inside the rocketplane. There had been three similar explosions which resulted in the destruction of the X-1A, X-1-3 and the number two Bell X-2. That explosion, which occurred while the X-2 was on a captive test flight near the Bell Aircraft Corporation Factory, Buffalo, New York, 12 May 1953, killed test pilot Skip Ziegler and flight test engineer Frank Wolko aboard the B-29 mothership.
Investigators discovered that leather gaskets which were used in the rocketplanes’ fuel systems had been treated with tricresyl phospate (TCP). When this was exposed to liquid oxygen, an explosion could result. The leather gaskets were removed from the other rocketplanes and the explosions stopped.
Colonel Everest’s close call was dramatized in the 1956 Toluca Productions motion picture, “Toward The Unknown,” which starred Academy Award-winning actor William Holden as “Major Lincoln Bond,” a fighter pilot, test pilot and former prisoner of war, all of which could describe Pete Everest.
Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, Jr., was born 10 August 1920, at Fairmont, Marion County, West Virginia. He was the first of two children of Frank Kendall Everest, an electrician, and Phyllis Gail Walker Everest. He attended Fairmont Senior High School, Fairmont, West Virginia, graduating in 1938, and then Fairmont State Teachers College where he was a member of the Tau Beta Iota (ΤΒΙ) fraternity. Everest also studied engineering at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown.
Pete Everest enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, 7 November 1941, shortly before the United States entered World War II. His enlistment records indicate that he was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.70 meters) tall and weighed 132 pounds (60 kilograms). Everest graduated from pilot training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 3 July 1942.
Lieutenant Everest married Miss Avis June Mason in Marion County, West Virginia, 8 July 1942. They would have three children, Frank, Vicky and Cindy.
Lieutenant Everest was appointed first lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 11 November 1942. He was assigned as a Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk fighter pilot. Everest flew 94 combat missions with the 314th Fighter Squadron, 324th Fighter Group, in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was credited with shooting down two Luftwaffe Junkers Ju-52 transports, 18 April 1943, and damaging a third. Everest was promoted to the rank of captain, A.U.S., 17 August 1943.
In 1944, Captain Everest was returned to the United States to serve as a flight instructor. He requested a return to combat and was then sent to the China-Burma-India theater of operations, commanding the 17th Provisional Fighter Squadron at Chenkiang (Zhenjiang), China, where he flew 67 missions in the North American P-51 Mustang, and shot down four Japanese airplanes. He was himself shot down by ground fire in May 1945. Everest was captured by the Japanese and suffered torture and inhumane conditions before being freed at the end of the war. He was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S., 1 July 1945. He was returned to the control of the United States military 3 October 1945.
After the war, Major Everest was assigned as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, before going west to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Everest’s permanent rank was advanced from second lieutenant, Air Reserve, to first lieutenant, Air Corps, 19 June 1947, with date of rank retroactive to 3 July 1945.
At Edwards, Pete Everest was involved in nearly every flight test program, flying the F-88, F-92, F-100 (he flew the YF-100A prototype to an FAI world speed record, 29 October 1953 ¹), F-101, F-102, F-104 and F-105 fighters, the XB-51, YB-52, B-57 and B-66 bombers. He also flew the pure research aircraft, the “X planes:” the X-1, X-1B, X-2, X-3, X-4 and X-5. Pete Everest flew the Bell X-1B to Mach 2.3, and he set an unofficial world speed record with the Bell X-2 at Mach 2.87 (1,957 miles per hour, 3,150 kilometers per hour), which earned him the title, “The Fastest Man Alive.” He was the pilot on thirteen of the twenty X-2 flights.
Frank Everest returned to operational assignments in March 1957, commanding the 461st Fighter Squadron, 36th Fighter Wing, equipped with the F-100 Super Sabre, at Hahn Air Base, Germany. Later, Colonel Everest commanded the 4453rd and 4520th Combat Crew Training Wings, and was assigned staff positions at the Pentagon. On 20 November 1963, Colonel Everest, commanding the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron, flew one of the first two operational McDonnell F-4C Phantom II fighters from the factory in St. Louis to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.
On 1 November 1965, Pete Everest was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. Between 1966 and 1972, General Everest flew 32 combat missions over Southeast Asia.
He served as commander of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service from 1970 to 1973. He retired from the Air Force 1 March 1973 after 33 years of service. Pete Everest later worked as a test pilot for Sikorsky Aircraft.
During his military career, General Everest was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Purple Heart; Air Medal with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (seven awards); Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze oak leaf clusters (three awards); Air Force Gallant Unit Citation; Prisoner of War Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with four bronze stars; Asiatic-Pacific campaign Medal with two bronze stars; World War II Victory Medal; national Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Air Force Longevity Service Award with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (eight awards); Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960– device. General Everest was rated as a Command Pilot, and a Basic Parachutist.
Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., United States Air Force, died at Tucson, Arizona, 1 October 2004, at the age of 84 years.
¹ FAI Record File Number 8868: World Record for Speed Over a Straight 15/25 Kilometer Course, 1,215.298 kilometers per hour (755.151 miles per hour)
14–22 August 1932: Over an eight-day period, Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden and Frances E. Carter Harrell Marsalis flew a Curtiss Thrush J, NR9142, over the Curtiss Airport ¹ at Valley Stream, New York. Their flight set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Duration of 196 hours, 5 minutes. ²
The pair took off at 1:00 p.m., Sunday, 14 August, and did not land until 5:06 p.m., Monday, 22 August. Newspaper reports at the time were that the total duration was 196 hours, 5 minutes “and four-fifths seconds.”
Their flight was supported by air-to-air refueling. A Curtiss Robin C-1, NR82H, flown by Stewart Reiss and John Runger, acted as the tanker. Seventy-eight in-flight refuelings were required to keep the Thrush airborne.
The “two 24-year-old housewives” were sponsored by the I.J. Fox store on 5th Avenue, New York City, which was owned by philanthropist Isidore Joseph Fox, “America’s Largest Furrier.” Mrs. Fox was an aviation enthusiast who often attended races and other events, and provided prizes. The Thrush had “I.J. FOX” boldly painted on each side of its fuselage, with a smaller name and the company’s fox head logo on the forward doors.
NR9142 was the first protototype Curtiss Thrush, s/n G-3. It was initially registered NX9142. In preparation for the endurance flight, the interior had been stripped of the passengers seats and carpet. A 150 gallon (568 liters) auxiliary fuel tank was installed.
The Curtiss Thrush was a single-engine six-place high-wing cabin monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was 32 feet, 7 inches (9.931 meters) long with a wingspan of 48 feet, 0 inches (14.630 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). The wing had a chord of 7 feet, 0 inches (2.134 meters). The airplane’s empty weight was 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms), and its gross weight was 3,800 pounds (1,724 kilograms).
The Curtiss Thrush was initially powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 603.397 cubic-inch-displacement (9.888 liters) Curtiss Challenger R600–6, two-row, 6-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.2:1. The engine was rated at 185 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. with 65-octane gasoline. The direct-drive engine turned a Curtiss-Reed fixed-pitch propeller, and later, a Turnbull variable-pitch propeller. The R600-6 was 42.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 41.75 inches (1.060 meters) in diameter, and weighed 445 pounds (202 kilograms).
During flight testing, the Challenger-powered Thrush was disappointingly underpowered. The Curtiss engine was replaced with a Wright J6E Whirlwind, and the airplane designated Thrush J. The J6E, or Wright R-760E Whirlwind 250, was an air-cooled, supercharged, 755.95 cubic inch (12.39 liters) seven-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. It was rated at 250 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff (1-minute limit) and required 73-octane gasoline. This was also a direct-drive engine. The R-760E weighed 530 pounds (240 kilograms)
The Curtiss Thrush J had a cruise speed of 104 miles per hour (167 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 122 miles per hour (196 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 13,200 feet (4,023 meters) and it had a range of 900 miles (1,448 kilometers).
22 August 1922: Captain Stanley Cockerell, A.F.C., a test pilot for Vickers Ltd (Aviation Department), made the first flight of the prototype Type 56 Victoria Mk.I, J6869, at Brooklands, Surrey, England.
The Victoria was a twin-engine biplane military transport, developed from the earlier Vickers Vernon and Virginia. It was operated by a crew of two in an open cockpit and could carry up to 22 troops.
The prototype Vickers Victoria was powered by two water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,461.135 cubic-inch-displacement (23.944 liters) D. Napier and Son Ltd. Lion I, a 60° “triple Four” or “broad-arrow” 12-cylinder engine (also known as a W-12), rated at 450 horsepower at 1,925 r.p.m., each. This was a very complex engine, using individually machined steel cylinders surrounded by welded stamped-steel water jackets. The cylinders were closed at the upper end, rather than having a separate cylinder head. Four valve ports were machined into the “crown.” Each cylinder had two intake and two exhaust valves, which were operated by a dual overhead camshaft arrangement. The cylinders were screwed into a aluminum “head block” which provided stiffening to the assembly, and contained intake and exhaust runners and cooling passages. The three individual banks of four cylinders were attached to the crankcase by studs. The engine’s crankshaft used large roller main bearings for support. The engine used a dry sump lubrication system with an oil pick up at each end. The propeller was driven through a 2:1 reduction gear unit. Cast aluminum alloy pistons were fitted to a master rod with two side rods. The Napier Lion was was compact, very light for the power it produced, and also very efficient. The Napier Lion I weighed approximately 860 pounds (390 kilograms).
The Vickers Victoria had a maximum speed of 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour), and a service ceiling of 16,200 feet (4,940 meters). Its range was 770 miles (1,240 kilometers).
97 Victoria transports were built by Vickers. The type remained in service with the Royal Air Force until 1935 and saw extensive use in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stanley Cockerell had been an aircraft mechanic before becoming a fighter pilot. On 27 October 1916, Serjt. Cockerell was assigned to the Royal Flying Corps. He was credited with seven aerial victories during World War I, while flying the Airco DH.2, DH.5 and the Sopwith Camel.
Albert I, King of the Belgians, conferred the Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Couronne to Temporary 2nd Lieutenant Cockerell, 21 September 1917. On 25 October 1917, Cockerell was promoted to the temporary rank of Captain. He was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre 11 March 1918.
For a flight from England to South Africa in a Vickers Vimy, 24 January–26 February 1920, (“The Times Flight”) Captain Cockerell was awarded the Air Force Cross by George V.
On 4 June 1921, Flight Lieutenant Stanley Cockerell, A.F.C., Royal Air Force, was transferred to the unemployed list.
In 1921, Cockerell married Miss Lorna Lockyer. They would have seven children.
In 1922, Cockerell competed in the King’s Cup, a cross country air race, flying a Vicker’s Type 61 Vulcan, G-EBEM. He finished in 7th place. In the 1923 race, he flew a Type 74 Vulcan, but that airplane did not finish.
Stanley Cockerell and his six-year-old daughter, Kathleen, were killed during the Battle of Britain, when the Luftwaffe bombed Sunbury-on-Thames, 29 November 1940. Mrs. Cockerell was also killed during The Blitz.