7 September 1956: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, test pilot Captain Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., U.S. Air Force, flew the Bell X-2 rocketplane, serial number 46-674, to a speed of Mach 1.7 and an altitude of 126,200 feet (38,465 meters). He was the first pilot to fly above 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) and is called “The First of the Spacemen”.
The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee for 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-558-2 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 X-2 was powered by a throttleable Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons) burning alcohol and liquid oxygen. The engine used two rocket chambers and had pneumatic, electrical and mechanical controls. The smaller chamber could produce a maximum 5,000 pounds of thrust, and the larger, 10,000 pounds (22.24 and 44.48 likonewtons, respectively). Professor Robert H. Goddard, “The Father of Modern Rocketry,” authorized Curtiss-Wright to use his patents, and his rocketry team went to work for the Curtiss-Wright Rocket Department. Royalties for use of the patents were paid to the Guggenheim Foundation and Clark university. Professor Goddard died before he could also make the move.
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-50A Superfortress bomber, serial number 46-011, was modified as the ”mothership.” A second Superfortress, B-50D-95-BO 48-096, was also modified to carry the X-2, and was 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.
Iven Kincheloe was awarded the Mackay Trophy for this flight. His altitude record remained unbeaten until the X-15 Project.
12 August 1960: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Major Robert M. White flew the North American Aviation X-15 rocketplane to an altitude of 136,500 feet (41,605 meters), exceeding the previous unofficial record of 126,200 feet (38,466 meters) set by the late Captain Iven C. Kincheloe, Jr., with the Bell X-2, 7 September 1956.
Iven Kincheloe had been assigned as the Air Force’s project pilot for the X-15. When he was killed on a routine flight, Bob White was designated to replace him.
This was White’s fourth flight in an X-15, and the 19th flight of the X-15 Program. The Number 1 rocketplane, serial number 56-6670, was carried aloft under the right wing of the “mothership,” Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003. At 08:48:43.0 a.m., PDT, 56-6670 was dropped over Silver Lake, near the Nevada-California border. White fired the two Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-13 rocket engines and they burned for 256.2 seconds.
This flight took place in Phase II of the Program and was intended to gradually increase the envelope of X-15 performance with the XLR11 engines while waiting for the much more powerful XLR99. The purpose of Flight 19 was to reach maximum altitude in order to test the rocketplane’s stability and controllability above the atmosphere.
The X-15 accelerated to Mach 2.52, 1,773 miles per hour (2,853 kilometers per hour) while climbing at nearly a 70° angle and reached a peak altitude of 136,500 feet (41,605 meters). After engine shutdown, White glided to a landing on Rogers Dry Lake and touched down. The duration of the flight was 11 minutes, 39.1 seconds.
Neither Kincheloe’s or White’s altitudes are recognized as records by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale(FAI). Over the next few years, the X-15 would reach to nearly three times higher.
26 July 1958: U.S. Air Force test pilot Captain Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., took off from Edwards Air Force Base in Lockheed F-104A-15-LO Starfighter 56-0772, acting as a chase plane for another F-104A which was flown by a Lockheed test pilot, Lou Schalk.
As the two supersonic interceptors began their climb out from the runway, a small control cable deep inside Kincheloe’s fighter failed, allowing the inlet guide vane of the F-104’s General Electric J79-GE-3 turbojet engine to close. With the suddenly decreased airflow the engine lost power and the airplane started to descend rapidly.
The early F-104 Starfighters had a Stanley Aviation Corporation Type B ejection seat that was catapulted or dropped by gravity from the bottom of the cockpit. 56-0772 was equipped with an improved Stanley Type C ejection seat. With the Starfighter well below 2,000 feet (610 meters), Kincheloe apparently thought that he needed to roll the airplane inverted before ejecting. This was actually not necessary and delayed his escape.
By the time he had separated from the seat and could open his parachute, he was below 500 feet (152 meters). The parachute did open, but too late. Iven Kincheloe was killed on impact. His airplane crashed into the desert floor just over 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) from the west end of Runway 22 and was totally destroyed. Today, a large crater scattered with fragments of Kincheloe’s F-104 is still clearly visible.
Iven Kincheloe was just 30 years old.
Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., was a legendary test pilot. He was born in Wayne County, Michigan, the son of Iven Carl Kincheloe, a farmer, and Francis Emma Wilde. He started flying lessons when he was 14 years old, and by the time he was legally allowed to solo—on his 16th birthday—he had already accumulated over 200 flight hours. He entered the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, where he was an engineering student. While there, he met Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager and decided that test flying was the career area that he wanted to pursue.
At Purdue, Kincheloe was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon (ΣΦΕ) fraternity, played football and managed the track team. He was a member of a military honor society, the Scabbard and Blade, and the Gimlet Club, a booster organization supporting varsity sports at the university. Iven Kincheloe graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force Reserve, 17 June 1949.
On graduation, Kincheloe was sent to Arizona to begin his Air Force pilot training. After graduating, Second Lieutenant Kincheloe was sent to Edwards Air Force Base in southern California to work on the new North American Aviation F-86E Sabre.
He deployed to Korea as a fighter pilot with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing in August 1951, flying the F-86E Sabre as an escort for bomber formations. He was transferred to the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group, and immediately began to shoot down enemy MiG-15 fighters. He was soon an with five kills.
After his combat tour (131 missions) in Korea, Iven Kincheloe was assigned as an exchange student to the Empire Test Pilots’ School at RAE Farnborough, England, for the ten-month British training program, and was sent back to Edwards Air Force Base in 1955.
One of the most skilled test pilots at Edwards, Iven Kincheloe flew every type of fighter, as well as the Bell X-2 rocketplane, which he flew to 126,200 feet (38,465 meters), 7 September 1956. He was the first pilot to climb higher than 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) and was considered to be “the first man in space.” For this flight, Kincheloe was awarded the Mackay Trophy, “For outstanding contributions to the science of aviation by flying the Bell X-2 to an altitude considerably higher than had ever been reached before by a piloted aircraft.”
Kincheloe was scheduled to become the primary Air Force pilot on the upcoming North American Aviation X-15 Program. That would have been followed by the Man In Space Soonest project, which would have launched Kincheloe into orbit with an X-15B second stage launched by an Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile.
Captain Kincheloe was married to the former Miss Dorothy Heining. They had two children, Iven Carl Kincheloe III and Jeanine Kincheloe, who was born several months after her father’s death.
Captain Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., was awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit (posthumous), the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards), and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards), Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster (two awards), National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with three service stars, Air Force Longevity Service Award, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Korean Service Medal, and the Republic of Korea Korean War Service Medal. In 1959, Kincheloe Air Force Base, Michigan, was named in his honor.
Captain Kincheloe is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.