Tag Archives: Flight Test

17 December 1903, 10:35 a.m.

Orville Wright at the controls of the Flyer, just airborne on its first flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, 17 December 1903. Wilbur Wright is running along to stabilize the wing. This photograph was taken by John Thomas Daniels, Jr., using the Wright Brothers’ Gundlach Optical Company Korona-V camera. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

17 December 1903, 10:35 a.m.: Orville and Wilbur Wright, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, had been working on the development of a machine capable of flight since 1899. They started with kites and gliders before moving on to powered aircraft. At the Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on the eastern shoreline of the United States, they made the first successful flight of a manned, powered, controllable airplane.

Orville was at the controls of the Flyer while Wilbur ran along side, steadying the right wing. Against a 27 miles per hour (12 meters per second) headwind, the airplane flew 120 feet (36.6 meters) in 12 seconds.

Three more flights were made that day, with the brothers alternating as pilot. Wilbur made the last flight, covering 852 feet (263.7 meters) in 59 seconds. The Flyer was slightly damaged on landing but before it could be repaired for an intended flight four miles back to Kitty Hawk, a gust of wind overturned the airplane and caused more extensive damage. It never flew again.

Flyer after fourth (final) flight. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The 1903 Wright Flyer is a canard biplane, with elevators to the front and rudders at the rear. The flight controls twisted, or “warped,” the wings to cause a change in direction. The pilot lay prone in the middle of the lower wing, on a sliding “cradle.” He slid left and right to shift the center of gravity. Wires attached to the cradle acted to warp the wings and move the rudders. The airplane is built of spruce and ash and covered with unbleached muslin fabric.

Wright Flyer, front view. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
Wright Flyer, front view. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Flyer is 21 feet, 1 inch (6.426 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 4 inches (12.293 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). The wings have an angle of incidence of 3° 25′. A built-in curvature of the wings creates a continuously-varying anhedral. (The wingtips are 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) lower than at the centerline.) The vertical gap between the upper and lower wings is 6 feet, 2 inches (1.880 meters). There is no sweep or stagger. The total wing area is 510 square feet (47.38 square meters). The Flyer weighs 605 pounds (274.4 kilograms), empty.

Wright Flyer, right quarter view. The airplane was damaged during the landing after its fourth flight. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Flyer was powered by a single water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 201.06-cubic-inch-displacement (3.30 liter) 4-cylinder inline overhead valve gasoline engine, which produced 12 horsepower at 1,025 r.p.m. The engine was built by the Wright’s mechanic, Charlie Taylor. The engine has a cast aluminum alloy crankcase with cast iron cylinders. Fuel is supplied from a gravity-feed tank mounted under the leading edge of the upper wing. Total fuel capacity is 22 fluid ounces (0.65 liters).

Wright Flyer, left profile. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
Wright Flyer, right profile. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

Using chains, sprockets, and drive shafts, the engine turns two fixed-pitch wooden propellers in opposite directions at 350 r.p.m. They turn outboard at the top of their arcs. The propellers have a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters) and are positioned at the trailing edges of the wings in a pusher configuration.

The Wright's airfield at Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbure Wright is standing in the hangar. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
The Wright’s airfield near Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbur Wright is standing in the hangar. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

In 1928, the Wright Flyer was shipped to England where it was displayed at the Science Museum on Exhibition Road, London. It returned to the United States in 1948 and was placed in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Wright Brothers’ first airplane flew a total of 1 minute, 42.5 seconds, and travelled 1,472 feet (448.7 meters).

The 1903 Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Institution. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The 1903 Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Institution. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in 1912. Orville continued to fly until 1918. He served as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA, predecessor of NASA) for 28 years. He died in 1948.

The Boeing XB-15, 35-277, flies past the Wright Brothers Memorial at the Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 December 1963

RUSHWORTH, Robert H., Major General, USAF5 December 1963: On Flight 97 of the X-15 Program, Major Robert A. Rushworth flew the number one aircraft, Air Force serial number 56-6670, to an altitude of 101,000 feet 30,785 meters) and reached Mach 6.06 (4,018 miles per hour/6,466 kilometers per hour).

The rocketplane was dropped from the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress “mother ship” 52-008, Balls 8, flying at 450 knots (833.4 kilometers per hour) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) over Delamar Dry Lake, Nevada. Rushworth ignited the Reaction Motors XLR-99-RM-1 rocket engine, which burned for 81.2 seconds before shutting down.

The flight plan had called for an altitude of 104,000 feet (31,699 meters), a 78 second burn and a maximum speed of Mach 5.70. With the difficulties of flying such a powerful rocketplane, Rushworth’s flight was actually fairly close to plan. During the flight the right inner windshield cracked.

Bob Rushworth landed the X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight of 9 minutes, 34.0 seconds.

Mach 6.06 was the highest Mach number reached for an unmodified X-15.

56-6670 flew 81 of the 199 flights of the X-15 Program. It is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

From 1960 to 1966, Bob Rushworth made 34 flights in the three X-15s, more than any other pilot.

North American Aviation Inc./U.S. Air Force/NASA X-15A 56-6670 hypersonic research rocketplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
North American Aviation Inc./U.S. Air Force/NASA X-15A 56-6670 hypersonic research rocketplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 November 1953

NACA test pilot Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket after his record-setting flight, 20 November 1953. (NASA) 20 November 1953: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, NACA’s High Speed Flight Station research test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., rode behind the flight crew of the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress as it carried the Douglas Aircraft Company D-558-II Skyrocket supersonic research rocketplane to its launch altitude. As the four-engine bomber climbed through 18,000 feet (5,486 meters), Crossfield headed back to the bomb bay to enter the Skyrocket’s cockpit and prepare for his flight.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144, on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

The Douglas D-558-II was Phase II of a United States Navy/Douglas Aircraft Company/National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics joint research project exploring supersonic flight. It was a swept-wing airplane powered by a single Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 four-chamber rocket engine. The Skyrocket was fueled with alcohol and liquid oxygen. The engine was rated at 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.69 kilonewtons) at Sea Level.

There were three Phase II aircraft. Originally, they were also equipped with a Westinghouse J34-W-40 turbojet engine which produced 3,000 pounds of thrust (13.35 kilonewtons). The Skyrockets took off from the surface of Rogers Dry Lake. Once the D-558-II reached altitude, the rocket engine was fired for the speed runs.

As higher speeds were required, the program shifted to an air launch from a B-29 (P2B-1S) drop ship. Without the need to climb to the test altitude, the Skyrocket’s fuel load was available for the high speed runs.

NACA 144. a Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

The D-558-II was 42.0 feet (12.80 meters) long, with a wingspan of 25.0 feet (7.62 meters). The leading edge of the wing was swept at a 35° angle and the tail surfaces were swept to 40°. The aircraft weighed 9,421 pounds (4,273 kilograms) empty and had a maximum takeoff weight of 15,787 pounds (7,161 kilograms). It carried 378 gallons (1,431 liters) of water/ethyl alcohol and 345 gallons (1,306 liters) of liquid oxygen.

The mothership, NACA 137, was a Boeing Wichita B-29-95-BW Superfortress, U.S. Air Force serial number 45-21787. It was transferred to the U.S. Navy, redesignated P2B-1S and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics number 84029. Douglas Aircraft modified the bomber for its drop ship role at the El Segundo plant.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)
Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)

Going above the planned launch altitude, the Superfortress was placed in a slight dive to build to its maximum speed. At the bomber’s critical Mach number (Mcr), the Skyrocket was just above its stall speed. At 32,000 feet (9,754 meters), Crossfield and the Skyrocket were released. The rocketplane fell for about 400 feet (122 meters) until the rocket engine ignited and then it began to accelerate.

Crossfield climbed at a steep angle until he reached 72,000 feet (21,946 meters), and then leveled off. Now in level flight, the D-558-II accelerated, quickly passing Mach 1, then Mach 1.5. Crossfield pushed the nose down and began a shallow dive. The Skyrocket, still under full power, built up speed. As it passed through 62,000 feet (18,998 meters) the Skyrocket reached its maximum speed, Mach 2.005, or 1,291 miles per hour (2,078 kilometers per hour).

Scott Crossfield and the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, with their support team: two North American F-86 Sabre chase planes and the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress mothership, at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1 January 1954. (NASA)
Scott Crossfield and the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, with their support team: two North American F-86 Sabre chase planes and the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress mothership, at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1 January 1954. (NASA)

Scott Crossfield was the first pilot to fly an aircraft beyond Mach 2, twice the speed of sound. During his career as a test pilot, he flew the Douglas D-558-II, the Bell X-1, Bell X-2 and North American X-15. He made 112 flights in rocket-powered aircraft, more than any other pilot.

NACA Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., Aeronautical Engineer and Test Pilot, 1921–2006. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 November 1966

Major William J. Knight, U.S. Air Force, with the modified X-15A-2, 56-6671, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Knight is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit with an MA-3 helmet. (U.S. Air Force)
Major William J. Knight, U.S. Air Force, with the modified X-15A-2, 56-6671, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Knight is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit with an MA-3 helmet. (U.S. Air Force)

18 November 1966: On Flight 175 of the research program, Major William J. (“Pete”) Knight, U.S. Air Force, flew the newly-modified North American Aviation X-15A-2, 56-6671, to Mach 6.33 (4,261 miles per hour/6,857 kilometers per hour) at 98,900 feet (30,245 meters). This is just 11 years, to the day, since Pete Everest made the first powered flight in the Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 rocketplane, with more than 6 times an increase in speed.

On this date, NASA made an attempt to launch two X-15s, -671 and -672, using the NB-52A 52-003 and NB-52B 52-008. However -672, the number three ship, had to abort the mission.

At the left, Boeing NB-52A 52-003 carries X-15 56-6670 while on the right, NB-52B 52-008 carries X-15 56-6671.(NASA)
At the left, Boeing NB-52A 52-003 carries X-15 56-6670 while on the right, NB-52B 52-008 carries X-15 56-6671.(NASA)

Balls 8, the NB-52B, flown by NASA test pilot Fitz Fulton and Colonel Joe Cotton, USAF, carried 56-6671 to the launch point over Mud Lake, Nevada, approximately 200 miles to the north of Edwards AFB. (This was the lake where -671 was severely damaged in an emergency landing, 9 November 1962. It was returned to North American to be rebuilt to the X-15A-2 configuration and returned to flight operation 19 months later.)

At 1:24:07.2 p.m. local time, Pete Knight and the X-15 were dropped from the pylon under the right wing of the B-52. He ignited the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 and began to accelerate with its 57,000 pounds of thrust (253.549 kilonewtons).

Since this was to be a high temperature test flight, it was planned to fly no higher than 100,000 feet (30,480 meters). The denser atmosphere would result in greater aerodynamic heating of the rocketplane.

With the two external propellant tanks carrying an additional 1,800 gallons (6,814 liters) of liquid ammonia and liquid oxygen, the engine ran for 2 minutes, 16.4 seconds. The rocketplane had accelerated to Mach 2. The external tanks emptied in about 60 seconds and were jettisoned. The tanks were equipped with parachutes. They were recovered to be reused on later flights.

The X-15, now about 25,000 pounds (11,340 kilograms) lighter and without the aerodynamic drag of the tanks, continued to accelerate. At its highest speed, the rocketplane was travelling approximately 6,500 feet per second (1,981 meters per second), more than twice as fast as a high-powered rifle bullet. Its surface temperatures exceeded 1,200 °F. (649 °C.)

Knight landed the X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. The duration of this flight had been 8 minutes, 26.8 seconds.

The modified North American Aviation X-15A-2, 56-6671, with external propellant tanks mounted. (NASA)
The modified North American Aviation X-15A-2, 56-6671, with external propellant tanks mounted. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 November 1955

Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., U.S. Air Force, with the Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplane, on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB, California, 1955. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., U.S. Air Force, with the Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplane, on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB, California, 1955. (U.S. Air Force)

18 November 1955: Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., USAF, makes the first powered flight in the Bell X-2 research rocketplane, 46-674, at Edwards AFB, California. The rocketplane was airdropped from a Boeing EB-50D Superfortress, 48-096. Only one 5,000-lb. thrust rocket tube ignited, but that was enough to accelerate “Pete” Everest to Mach 0.992 (655.4 miles per hour/1,054.5 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters).

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket.

In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from stainless steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

The Bell X-2 being loaded into the EB-50D Superfortress "mothership" at Edwards AFB, California. (LIFE Magazine)
The Bell X-2 being loaded into the EB-50D Superfortress “mothership” at Edwards AFB, California. (LIFE Magazine)

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable two-chamber Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons)

Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. A four-engine Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress bomber, serial number 48-096, was modified as the drop ship and redesignated EB-50D.

The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

The Bell X-2 and Boeing EB-50D Superfortress in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
The Bell X-2 and Boeing EB-50D Superfortress in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

Pete Everest joined the United States Army Air Corps shortly before the United States entered World War II. He graduated from pilot training in 1942 and was assigned as a P-40 Warhawk pilot, flying combat missions in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was credited with shooting down two German airplanes and damaging a third.

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 where he 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.

The Bell X-2 was dropped from a Boeing EB-50D Superfortress, 48-096. (U.S. Air Force)

After the war, 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. At Edwards, he was involved in nearly every flight test program, flying the F-88, F-92, F-100, 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 X-1B to Mach 2.3, and he set a world speed record with the X-2 at Mach 2.9 (1,957 miles per hour, 3,149.5 kilometers per hour) which earned him the title, “The Fastest Man Alive.”

Pete Everest gives some technical advice to William Holden ("Major Lincoln Bond"), with Bell X-2 46-674, on the set of "Toward The Unknown", 1956.
Pete Everest gives some technical advice to actor William Holden (“Major Lincoln Bond”), with Bell X-2 46-674, on the set of “Toward The Unknown,” 1956. (Toluca Productions)

Frank Everest returned to operational assignments and commanded a fighter squadron, two 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. In 1965, Pete Everest was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He was commander of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service. He retired from the Air Force in 1973 after 33 years of service. General Everest died in 2004.

Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., United States Air Force, 1920–2004. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., United States Air Force, 1920–2004. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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