23 June 1961: Major Robert Michael White, United States Air Force, became the first pilot to exceed Mach 5 in an aircraft. This was the 38th flight of the X-15 Program. Flights during this phase incrementally increased the speed and altitude of the X-15 up to its design limits of Mach 6 and 250,000 feet (76,200 meters).
The second North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6671, was air-dropped from the NB-52A Stratofortress mothership, 52-003, over Mud Lake, Nevada at 2:00:05.0 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time (21:00 UTC). White fired the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 engine for 78.7 seconds, reaching Mach 5.27 (3,603 miles per hour, 5,799 kilometers per hour) and climbed to 107,700 feet (32,827 meters). 10 minutes, 5.7 seconds after being dropped from the B-52, White touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.
Bob White was the first pilot to exceed Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He also flew an X-15 to an altitude of 314,750 feet (95,936 meters), qualifying for U.S. Air Force astronaut wings.
After leaving the X-15 program, Major White flew 70 combat missions in the Republic F-105D Thunderchief fighter bomber during the Vietnam War. He lead the attack against the heavily-defended Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi, 11 August 1967, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross.
Major General White retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1981. He died 10 March 2010.
56-6671 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The mothership, 52-003, is on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona.
19 June 1947: At Muroc Army Airfield (now, Edwards Air Force Base) Colonel Albert Boyd, United States Army Air Forces, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, with an average speed of 1,003.81 kilometers per hour (623.74 miles per hour).¹ This was not just a class record, but an absolute world speed record.
Col. Boyd flew the Lockheed P-80R Shooting Star, serial number 44-85200, four times over the course, twice in each direction. The record speed was the average of the two fastest consecutive runs. As can be seen in the above photograph, these runs were flown at an altitude of approximately 70 feet (21 meters).
Originally a production P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, 44-85200 had been converted to the XP-80B, a single prototype for the improved P-80B fighter.
The P-80A-1-LO was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane powered by a turbojet engine. It was a day fighter, not equipped for night or all-weather combat operations. The P-80A was 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 10½ inches (11.849 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). The fighter had an empty weight of 7,920 pounds (3,592 kilograms) and a gross weight of 11,700 pounds (5,307 kilograms).
The P-80A-1 was powered by an Allison J33-A-9 or -11 turbojet, rated at 3,850 pounds of thrust. It had a maximum speed of 558 miles per hour (898 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and had a service ceiling of 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).
The P-80A was armed with six Browning .50-caliber machine guns placed together in the nose.
After modification to the XP-80B configuration, 44-85200 was powered by an Allison J33-A-17 with water/alcohol injection. It was rated at 4,000 pounds of thrust. Fuel capacity was reduced by 45 gallons (170 liters) to allow for the water/alcohol tank. It was also the first American-built fighter to be equipped with an ejection seat. The XP-80B had a maximum speed of 577 miles per hour (929 kilometers) per hour at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), a 19 mile per hour (31 kilometers per hour) increase. The service ceiling increased to 45,500 feet (13,868 meters). The P-80B was heavier than the P-80A, with an empty weight of 8,176 pounds (3,709 kilograms) and gross weight of 12,200 pounds (5,534 kilograms). Visually, the two variants are almost identical.
44-85200 was next modified to the XP-80R high-speed configuration. The canopy was smaller, the wing tips were shorter and the leading edges were re-contoured. In its initial configuration, the XP-80R retained the J33-A-17 engine, and incorporated new intakes designed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).
The initial performance of the XP-80R was disappointing. The intakes were returned to the standard shape and the J33-A-17 was replaced by a J33-A-35 engine. This improved J33 would be the first turbojet engine to be certified for commercial transport use (Allison Model 400). It was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust at 11,750 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 5,400 pounds of thrust with water/methanol injection. The J33 had a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, 14 combustion chambers, and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. The J33-A-35 had a maximum diameter of 4 feet, 1.2 inches (1.250 meters) and was 8 feet, 8.5 inches (2.654 meters) long. It weighed 1,795 pounds (814 kilograms).
Technicians who modified the XP-80R at Lockheed Plant B-9 Production Flight Test Center, Metropolitan Airport, Van Nuys (just a few miles west of the main plant in Burbank). nicknamed the modified Shooting Star “Racey.”
Lockheed XP-80R 44-85200 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
At the time of the speed record flight, Colonel Boyd was chief of the Flight Test Divison at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.
Albert Boyd was born 22 November 1906 at Rankin, Tennessee, the first of three sons of Kester S. Boyd a school night watchman, and Mary Beaver Boyd. Inn 1924, Boyd graduated from high school in Asheville, North Carolina, then attended Biltmore College.
Albert Boyd married Miss Anna Lu Oheim of Texas, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada (1907–1981).
Boyd was one of the most influential officers to have served in the United States Air Force. He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet 27 October 1927. After completion of flight training Boyd was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Corps Reserve, 28 February 1929, and as a second lieutenant, Air Corps, 2 May 1929. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant 1 October 1934. On 24 July 1936, Boyd was promoted to the temporary rank of captain. This rank became permanent 2 May 1939. For the next five years, Lieutenant Boyd served as a flight instructor at Maxwell Field, Alabama, an then Brooks, Kelly and Randolph Fields in Texas.
In 1934, 1st Lieutenant Boyd was assigned as engineering and operations officer at Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illinois. He completed the Air Corps technical School and the Engineer Armament Course. On 24 July 1936, Boyd was promoted to the temporary rank of captain. This rank became permanent 2 May 1939. In 1939 he was assigned to the Hawaiian Air Depot as assistant engineering officer, and was promoted to major (temporary), 15 March 1941. He and Mrs. Boyd lived in Honolulu. His Army salary was $3,375 per year. In December 1941, he became the chief engineering officer.
On 5 January 1942, Major Boyd was promoted to lieutenant colonel (temporary) and rated a command pilot. Following the end of World War II, Boyd reverted to his permanent rank of major, 2 May 1946.
In October 1945, Major Boyd was appointed acting chief of the Flight Test Division at Wright Field. He became chief of the division, October 1945, and also flew as an experimental test pilot. Boyd believed that it was not enough for Air Force test pilots to be superior pilots. They needed to be trained engineers and scientists in order to properly evaluate new aircraft. He developed the Air Force Test Pilot School and recommended that flight testing operations be centered at Muroc Field in the high desert of southern California, where vast open spaces and excellent flying conditions were available. He was the first commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center.
When Brigadier General Boyd took command of Muroc Air Force Base in September 1949, he recommended that its name be changed to honor the late test pilot, Glen Edwards, who had been killed while testing a Northrop YB-49 near there, 5 June 1948. Since that time the airfield has been known as Edwards Air Force Base.
In February 1952, General Boyd was assigned as vice commander of the Wright Air Development Center, and commander, June 1952. His final assignment on active duty was as deputy commander of the Air Research and Development Command at Baltimore, Maryland, from 1 August 1955.
From 1947 until he retired in 1957 as a major general, Albert Boyd flew and approved every aircraft in use by the U.S. Air Force. By the time he retired, he had logged over 21,120 flight hours in more than 700 different aircraft. He had been awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal.
Major General Albert Boyd retired from the Air Force 30 October 1957 following 30 years of service. During his military career, he had been awarded the legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross. General Boyd died at Saint Augustine, Florida, 18 September 1976 at the age of 69 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.
15 June 1969: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, the second Lockheed C-5A Galaxy transport, 66-8304, set several records, including the heaviest takeoff weight, 762,800 pounds (346,000 kilograms), and the heaviest landing weight, 600,000 pounds (272,155 kilograms).
8 June 1959: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, North American Aviation’s Chief Engineering Test Pilot, A. Scott Crossfield, made the first flight of the X-15A hypersonic research rocketplane.
56-6670 was the first of three X-15s built for the U.S. Air Force and NASA. It was airdropped from a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, NB-52A-1-BO 52-003, at 37,550 feet (11,445 meters) over Rosamond Dry Lake at 08:38:40 a.m, Pacific Time.
This was an unpowered glide flight to check the flying characteristics and aircraft systems, so there were no propellants or oxidizers aboard other than hydrogen peroxide which powered the pumps and generators.
The aircraft reached 0.79 Mach (522 miles per hour, 840 kilometers per hour) during the 4 minute, 56.6 second flight.
In his autobiography, Scott Crossfield described the first flight:
“Three” . . . “Two” . . . “One” . . .
Inside the streamlined pylon, a hydraulic ram disengaged the three heavy shackles from the upper fuselage of the X-15. They were so arranged that all released simultaneously, and if one failed they all failed. The impact of the release was clearly audible in the X-15 cockpit. I heard a loud “kerchunk.”
The X-15 hung in its familiar place beneath the pylon for a split second. Then the nose dipped sharply down and to the right more rapidly than I had anticipated. The B-52, so long my constant companion, was gone. The X-15 and I were alone in the air and flying 500 miles an hour. In less than five minutes I would be on the ground. . . .
There was much to do in the first hundred seconds of flight. First I had to get the “feel” of the airplane, to make certain it was trimmed out for landing just as any pilot trims an airplane after take-off or . . . when dwindling fuel shifts the center of gravity. Then I had to pull the nose up, with and without flaps, to feel out the stall characteristics, so that I would know how she might behave at touchdown speeds . . . My altimeter unwound dizzily: from 24,000 to 13,000 feet in less than forty seconds. . . .
The desert was coming up fast. At 600 feet altitude I flared out. . . .
In the next second without warning the nose of the X-15 pitched up sharply. It was a maneuver that had not been predicted by the computers, an uncharted area which the X-15 was designed to explore. I was frankly caught off guard. Quickly I applied corrective elevator control.
The nose went down sharply. But instead of leveling out, it tucked down. I applied reverse control. The nose came up but much too far. Now the nose was rising and falling like a skiff in a heavy sea. Although I was putting in maximum control I could not subdue the motions. The X-15 was porpoising wildly, sinking toward the desert at 200 miles an hour. I would have to land at the bottom of an oscillation, timed perfectly; otherwise, I knew, I would break the bird. I lowered the flaps and the gear. . . .
. . . With the next dip I had one last chance and flared again to ease the descent. At that moment the rear skids caught on the desert floor and the nose slammed over, cushioned by the nose wheel. The X-15 skidded 5,000 feet across the lake, throwing up an enormous rooster tail of dust. . . .
—Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield and Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960, Chapter 37 at Pages 338–342.
Before the drop, it was discovered that the aircraft’s Stability Augmentation System was inoperative in pitch mode. During the flight it was found that the hydraulic-assisted flight control system was responding too slowly to Crossfield’s inputs. Engineers analyzed the problem and increased the hydraulic system pressure. The problem never recurred.
Scott Crossfield was the most experienced rocketplane pilot with 82 rocketplane flights before the X-15 program. “. . . he was intimately involved in the design of the aircraft and contributed immensely to the success of the design.”
—At The Edge Of Space, by Milton O. Thompson, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992, Introduction, at Page 3.
North American Aviation X-15A 56-6670 made the first glide flight and the first and last powered flights of the X-15 Program. It made a total of 82 of the 199 X-15 flights. It is in the collection of National Air and Space Museum at Washington, D.C.
5 June 1948: Flying at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), north of Muroc Air Force Base, California, the second Northrop YB-49 “flying wing,” serial number 42-102368, was testing stall recovery performance with a crew of five aboard. The pilot was Major Daniel A. Forbes, Jr., United States Air Force, and the co-pilot was Captain Glen W. Edwards. The aircraft suffered a catastrophic structural failure with the outer wing panels tearing off. The experimental airplane crashed approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of the small desert town of Mojave. The entire crew, which included 1st Lieutenant Edward L. Swindell, flight engineer, and civilian engineers Charles H. LaFountain and Clare C. Lesser, were killed.
The YB-49 was an experimental jet engine-powered bomber, modified from a propeller-driven Northrop XB-35. It was hoped that the all-wing design would result in a highly efficient airplane because of its very low drag characteristics. However, the design could be unstable under various flight conditions.
A few months after the crash, the first YB-49 was destroyed in a taxiing accident and the project cancelled. It would be 41 years before the concept would be successful with the Northrop B-2 Spirit.
42-102367 had been converted from the second YB-35 pre-production test aircraft. The original Flying Wing’s four Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major (R-4360-21) radial engines were replaced by eight Allison J35-A-5 turbojet engines and several aerodynamic improvements were made.
The YB-49 was a very unusual configuration for an aircraft of that time. There was no fuselage or tail control surfaces. The crew compartment, engines, fuel, landing gear and armament was contained within the wing. Air intakes for the turbojet engines were placed in the leading edge of the wing. The exhaust nozzles were at the trailing edge. Four small vertical fins for improved yaw stability were also at the trailing edge.
The YB-49 had a length of 53 feet, 1 inch (16.180 meters), wingspan of 172 feet (52.426 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 2 inches (4.623 meters). It weighed 88,442 pounds (40,117 kilograms) empty and the gross weight was 193,938 pounds (87,969 kilograms).
The YB-49 was powered by eight General Electric-designed, Allison Engine Company-built J35-A-5 engines. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-5 was rated at 4,000 pounds of thrust (17.79 kilonewtons) at 7,700 r.p.m. (static thrust, Sea Level). The engine was 14 feet, 0.0 inches (4.267 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms). (This same engine variant was used in the North American Aviation XP-86, replacing its original Chevrolet-built J35-C-3.)
During testing the YB-49 reached a maximum speed of 493 miles per hour (793 kilometers per hour) at 20,800 feet (6,340 meters). Cruise speed was 429 miles per hour (690 kilometers per hour). The airplane had a service ceiling of 45,700 feet (13,929 meters). Maximum range was 3,575 miles (5,753 kilometers).
Only two Northrop YB-49s were built and they were tested by Northrop and the Air Force for nearly two years, and though an additional nine YB-35s were ordered converted, the B-49 was not placed into production.
Captain Glen Walter Edwards was born at Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, 5 March 1916, the second son of Claude Gustin Edwards, a real estate salesman, and Mary Elizabeth Briggeman Edwards. The family immigrated to the United States in August 1923 and settled near Lincoln, California. He attended Lincoln High School, where he was a member of the Spanish Club and worked on the school newspaper, “El Eco.” He graduated in 1936.
Edwards attended Placer Junior College, Auburn, California, before transferring to the University of California, Berkeley. He graduated in 1941 with a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree, and then enlisted in the United States Army as an aviation cadet, 16 July 1941.
Following pilot training, Edwards was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 6 February 1942. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant, Army of the United States, 16 September 1942. Lieutenant Edwards flew the Douglas A-20 Havoc light bomber with the 86th Bombardment Squadron (Light), 47th Bomb Group, in North Africa and fought at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, 19–24 February 1943. He was next promoted to captain, 28 April 1943. He also flew during the invasion of Sicily, in late 1943.
Captain Edwards was assigned as a test pilot in 1944. After World War II came to an end the U.S. Army and Air Corps were demobilized to 1/16 of their peak levels (from 8,200,000 to 554,000). Edwards was retained but reverted to the rank of 1st lieutenant. He had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards)
Glen Edwards earned a masters degree in engineering (M.S.E.) from Princeton University in 1947. Lieutenant Edwards was transferred to the United States Air Force after it was made a separate service, 18 September 1947.
Topeka Air Force Base in Kansas was renamed Forbes Air Force Base. Muroc Air Force Base was renamed Edwards Air Force Base in honor of Captain Edwards.
Captains Edwards’ remains were buried at the Lincoln Cemetery, Lincoln, California.