Tag Archives: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

7 December 1972 05:33:00 UTC, T + 00:00:00.63

Apollo 17 (AS-512) on the pad at Launch Complex 39A, 21 November 1972. (NASA)
Apollo 17 (AS-512) on the pad at Launch Complex 39A, 21 November 1972. (NASA)

7 December 1972: At 05:33:00.63 UTC (12:33 a.m., Eastern Standard Time), Apollo 17, the last manned mission to The Moon in the 20th century, lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The destination was the Taurus-Littrow Valley.

The Mission Commander, on his third space flight, was Eugene A. Cernan. The Command Module Pilot was Ronald A. Evans, on his first space flight, and the Lunar Module Pilot was Harrison H. Schmitt, also on his first space flight.

Gene Cernan, seated, with Harrison Schmitt and Ronald Evans. (NASA)
Gene Cernan, seated, with Harrison Schmitt and Ronald Evans. (NASA)

Schmitt was placed in the crew because he was a professional geologist. He replaced Joe Engle, an experienced test pilot who had made sixteen flights in the X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane. Three of those flights were higher than the 50-mile altitude, qualifying Engle for U.S. Air Force astronaut wings.

The launch of Apollo 17 was delayed for 2 hours, 40 minutes, due to a minor mechanical malfunction. When it did liftoff, the launch was witnessed by more than 500,000 people.

Apollo 17/Saturn V (AS-512) at Pad 39A during countdown. (NASA 72C-5901)

The Saturn V rocket was a three-stage, liquid-fueled heavy launch vehicle. Fully assembled with the Apollo Command and Service Module, it stood 363 feet (110.642 meters) tall. The first and second stages were 33 feet (10.058 meters) in diameter. Fully loaded and fueled the rocket weighed 6,200,000 pounds (2,948,350 kilograms). It could lift a payload of 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms) to Low Earth Orbit.

The first stage was designated S-IC. It was designed to lift the entire rocket to an altitude of 220,000 feet (67,056 meters) and accelerate to a speed of more than 5,100 miles per hour (8,280 kilometers per hour). The S-IC stage was built by Boeing at the Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana. It was 138 feet (42.062 meters) tall and had an empty weight of 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). Fully fueled with 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of RP-1 and 318,065 gallons (1,204,000 liters) of liquid oxygen, the stage weighed 5,100,000 pounds (2,131,322 kilograms). It was propelled by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines, producing 1,522,000 pounds of thrust (6770.19 kilonewtons), each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level (33,850.97 kilonewtons). These engines were ignited seven seconds prior to lift off and the outer four burned for 168 seconds. The center engine was shut down after 142 seconds to reduce the rate of acceleration. The F-1 engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation at Canoga Park, California.

The S-II second stage was built by North American Aviation at Seal Beach, California. It was 81 feet, 7 inches (24.87 meters) tall and had the same diameter as the first stage. The second stage weighed 80,000 pounds (36,000 kilograms) empty and 1,060,000 pounds loaded. The propellant for the S-II was liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The stage was powered by five Rocketdyne J-2 engines, also built at Canoga Park. Each engine produced 232,250 pounds of thrust (1,022.01 kilonewtons), and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust (717.28 kilonewtons).

The Saturn V third stage was designated S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds. The third stage had one J-2 engine and also used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. The S-IVB would place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.

Eighteen Saturn V rockets were built. They were the most powerful machines ever built by man.

Apollo 17 launched 3 years, 4 months, 20 days, 16 hours, 1 minute, 0 seconds after Apollo 11, the first manned flight to The Moon.

Apollo 17 (AS-512) lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at 05:33:00 UTC, 7 December 1972. (NASA)
Apollo 17 (AS-512) lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at 05:33:00 UTC, 7 December 1972. (NASA)
Apollo 17 (NASA S72-55070)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 December 1973, 02:26:00 UTC

Photographic image of the planet Jupiter, taken by Pioneer 10, 3 December 1973. (NASA)
Photographic image of the planet Jupiter, taken by Pioneer 10, 3 December 1973. (NASA Ames Research Center)

3 December 1973: At 02:26:00 UTC, the NASA interplanetary probe Pioneer 10 reached its closest approach to the gas giant, Jupiter, 132,252 kilometers (82,178 miles) above the planet’s cloud tops. At that time, Pioneer 10 had a velocity of approximately 132,000 kilometers per hour (82,021 miles per hour).

Composite of images of the planet Jupiter during Pioneer 10’s approach (lower images, left to right) and departure (upper images, right to left). NASA

During the encounter with Jupiter, more than 500 photographic images were made and transmitted to Earth. A variety of measurements were made by sensors aboard the space craft.

An artist’s conception of Pioneer 10 at Jupiter. (NASA)

Pioneer 10 was built by the TRW Space & Technology Group, Redondo Beach, California, for the NASA Ames Research Laboratory. It was launched by a three-stage Atlas Centaur rocket from Launch Complex 36A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 2 March 1972.

The last signal received from Pioneer 10 was on 23 January 2003. At that time, the probe was an estimated 12 billion kilometers (80 Astronomical Units) from Earth.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 December 1984

NASA 833, a remotely-piloted Boeing 720 airliner, pulls up after a practice approach to the impact point on Rogers Dry Lake. The "X" is the planned touchdown point. The "rhino" barriers are at the runway threshold. (NASA)
NASA 833, a remotely-piloted Boeing 720 airliner, pulls up after a practice approach to the impact point on Rogers Dry Lake. The “X” is the planned touchdown point. The “rhino” barriers are at the runway threshold. (NASA)

After four years of planning and preparation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) intentionally crashed a Boeing 720 airliner to test an experimental fuel additive intended to reduce post-crash fires, and to assess passenger survivability. An anti-misting agent was added to standard commercial JP-5 jet fuel to create AMK, or “Anti-Misting Kerosene.” The airliner’s fuel tanks were filled with the AMK mixture, totaling 16,060 gallons (10,794 liters). Instrumented crash test dummies were placed in the passengers seats.

Passengers relaxing before a flight aboard NASA’s Boeing 720, N833NA. (NASA ECN-28307)

NASA 833, the Boeing 720-027 airliner, FAA registration N833NA, was a remotely-piloted aircraft. NASA test pilot Fitzhugh Lee (“Fitz”) Fulton, Jr., flew NASA 833 from a ground station, the NASA Dryden Remotely Controlled Vehicle Facility. More than 60 flights had been made prior to the actual test.

Fitz Fulton in the CID.
Fitz Fulton in the NASA Dryden Remotely Controlled Vehicle Facility

The test was planned so that the airliner would make a shallow 3.8° approach to a prepared runway on the east side of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. It was to land on its belly in a wings-level attitude, then slide into a group of barriers, called “rhinos,” which would slice open the wing tanks. The fuselage and passenger cabin would remain intact. NASA and the FAA estimated that this would be “survivable” for all occupants.

Just before touchdown, the Boeing 720 entered a "Dutch roll." The airliner's nose yawed to the left and the left wing dipped, striking the ground sooner than was planned. All four engines are still at full throttle. NASA 833 is to the right of the runway center line. (NASA)
Just before touchdown, the Boeing 720 entered a “Dutch roll.” The airliner’s nose yawed to the left and the left wing dipped, striking the ground sooner than was planned. All four engines are still at full throttle. NASA 833 is to the right of the runway center line. (NASA)

As the Boeing 720 descended on its Final Approach, its nose yawed to the right and the airplane went to the right of the runway center line. It then yawed back to the left and entered an out-of-phase oscillation called a “Dutch roll.” The decision height to initiate a “go-around” was 150 feet (45.7 meters) above the surface of the lake bed. Fitz Fulton thought he had enough time to get NASA 833 back on the center line and committed to the test landing. However, the Dutch roll resulted in the airliner’s left wing impacting the ground with the inboard engine on the left wing (Number Two) just to the right of the center line.

NASA 833 slews left as it approaches the test apparatus. The Boeing 720 has reached the intended touchdown point but is out of position, still to the right of center line and misaligned. (NASA)
NASA 833 slews left as it approaches the test apparatus. The Boeing 720 has reached the intended touchdown point but is out of position, still to the right of center line and misaligned. (NASA)

According to the test plan, all four of the airliner’s engines should have been brought to idle, but they remained at full throttle. The left wing’s impact yawed the airliner to the left and, rather than the fuselage passing through the rhino barriers undamaged, the passenger compartment was torn open. Another rhino sliced into the Number Three engine (inboard, right wing), opening its combustion chamber. With the fuel tanks in the wings ruptured, raw fuel was sprayed into the engine’s open combustion chamber which was still at full throttle.

 As the airliner slides through the "rhino" barriers, they rip open the fuel tanks, the Number Three engine and the passenger compartment. The raw fuel immediately ignited. (NASA)
As the airliner slides through the “rhino” barriers, they rip open the fuel tanks, the Number Three engine and the passenger compartment. The raw fuel immediately ignited. (NASA)

The raw fuel ignited and exploded into a fireball. Flames immediately entered the passenger compartment. As the 720 slid on the runway it continued to rotate left and the right wing broke off though the fuselage remained upright.

NASA 833's right wing breaks off, rupturing the fuel tanks. Nearly 8,000 gallons (30,000 liters) of jet fuel pours out into the fireball. (NASA)
NASA 833’s right wing breaks off, rupturing the fuel tanks. Nearly 8,000 gallons (30,000 liters) of jet fuel pours out into the fireball. (NASA)

As the right wing came off the ruptured fuel tanks emptied most of the raw fuel directly into the fireball.

The flaming wreckage of NASA 833 slides to a stop on Rogers Dry Lake. Fire fighters needed more than one hour to extinguish the fire. (NASA)
The flaming wreckage of NASA 833 slides to a stop on Rogers Dry Lake. Fire fighters needed more than one hour to extinguish the fire. (NASA)

Over an hour was required to extinguish the flames. The test of the flame-reducing fuel additive was a complete failure. Test engineers estimated that 25% of the occupants might have survived the crash, however, it was “highly speculative” that any could have escaped from the burning, smoke-filled passenger compartment.

Fithugh L. "Fitz" Fulton, Jr. (NASA)
Fitzhugh Lee “Fitz” Fulton, Jr., with NASA 905, a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, and Enterprise (OV-101). (NASA)
Fitz Fulton, 1942 (The Cohiscan)

Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., was born at Blakely, Georgia, 6 June 1925, the first of two sons of Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, a merchant seaman, and Manila Fulton. He attended Columbus High School, Columbus Georgia, graduating in 1942. He entered College at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now known as Auburn University) and the University of Oklahoma. He was awarded a bachelor of arts degree from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California.

Fulton entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943, and was trained as a pilot. He married Miss Erma I. Beck at Tucson, Arizona, 16 December 1945. They would have three children.

Following World War II, participated in Operation Crossroads, the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, July 1946. Lieutenant Fulton flew the Douglas C-54 Skymaster four-engine transport during the Berlin Airlift, making 225 sorties, and then the Douglas B-26 Invader light attack bomber during the Korean War.

Captain Fitz Fulton, U.S. Air Force, in teh cockpit of a Douglas B-26 Invader, circa 1952. (Air & Space Magazine)
Captain Fitz Fulton, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Douglas B-26 Invader, circa 1952. (Air & Space Magazine)

Fulton graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1952. He served as project test pilot for the Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber and flew the B-58 to a World Record Altitude of 26,017.93 meters (85,360.66 feet) on 14 September 1962.¹

Major Fitz Fulton in the cockpit of a Convair B-58. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major Fitz Fulton in the cockpit of a Convair B-58. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

At Edwards Air Force Base, he flew the B-52 “mother ships” for the X-15 Program. He flew the North American XB-70A Valkyrie faster than Mach 3. When Fulton retired from the Air Force in 1966, he was a lieutenant colonel assigned as Chief of Bomber and Transport Test Operations.

Fitz Fulton continued as a research test pilot for NASA, flying as project pilot for the YF-12A and YF-12C research program. He flew all the early test flights of the NASA/Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and carried the space shuttle prototype, Enterprise. By the time he had retired from NASA, Fulton had flown more than 16,000 hours in 235 aircraft types.

Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., died at Thousand Oaks, California, 4 February 2015, at the age of 89 years..

Lieutenant Colonel Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., with a North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie.
Colonel Joseph Frederick Cotton and Lieutenant Colonel Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., with a North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie.

NASA 833 (c/n 18066) was ordered by Braniff Airways, Inc., as N7078, but the sale was not completed. The airplane first flew 5 May 1961 and it was delivered to the Federal Aviation Administration as a test aircraft one week later, 12 May 1961, registered N113. A few years later the identification was changed to N23, then back to N113, and then once again to N23. In 1982, the Boeing 720 was transferred to NASA to be used in the Controlled Impact Demonstration. At this time it was registered as N2697V. A final registration change was made to N833NA.

NASA 833 at Edwards Air Force Base, prior to the Controlled Impact Demonstration. (Paul)

The Boeing 720 was a variant of the Model 707, intended for short to medium range flights. It had 100 inches (2.54 meters) removed from the fuselage length and improvements were made to the wing, decreasing aerodynamic drag, though it retained the span of the 707.

The Boeing 720 was powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-7 turbojet engines, a civil variant of the military J57 series. The 720B was equipped with the more efficient P&W JT3D-1 turbofan engines. The JT3C-7 was a “two-spool” axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), 8 combustion tubes, and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It was rated at 12,030 pounds of thrust (53.512 kilonewtons) for takeoff. The JT3D-1 was a dual axial-flow turbofan engine, with a 2-stage fan section 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high pressure stages), 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). This engine was rated at 14,500 pounds of static thrust (64.499 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 17,000 pounds (75.620 kilonewtons), with water injection, for takeoff (2½ minute limit). Almost half of the engine’s thrust was produced by the fans. Maximum engine speed was 6,800 r.p.m. (N1) and 10,200 r.p.m. (N2). It was 11 feet, 4.64 inches (3.471 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) wide and 4 feet, 10.00 inches (1.422 meters) high. It weighed 4,165 pounds (1,889 kilograms). The JT3C could be converted to the JT3D configuration during overhaul.

The maximum cruise speed of the Boeing 720 was 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 620 miles per hour (1,009 kilometers per hour). The range at at maximum payload was 4,370 miles (7,033 kilometers).

Boeing built 154 720 and 720B airliners from 1959 to 1967.

The Federal Aviation Administration's Boeing 720-027 N113. (FAA)
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Boeing 720-027 N113. (FAA)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 14652 and 14656

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 November 1983, 16:00:00.84 UTC

Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9) launches from LC-39A, Kennedy Space center, 16:00:00 UTC, 28 November 1983. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9) launches from LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, 16:00:00 UTC, 28 November 1983. (NASA)

28 November 1983, 16:00:00.84 UTC, T minus Zero: Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9) lifted of from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Florida on its sixth space flight.

On board was the largest flight crew for a manned space mission up to that time:  Mission Commander John W. Young (Captain, United States Navy, Retired), Pilot; Lieutenant Colonel Brewster H. Shaw, Jr., United States Air Force; Mission Specialists Owen K. Garriott, Ph.D., and Robert A.R. Parker, Ph.D.; and Payload Specialists Ulf Dietrich Merbold, Dr. rer. nat, of the European Space Agency (ESA); and Lieutenant Colonel Byron K. Lichtenberg, D.Sc., USAF (Massachusetts Air National Guard).

The flight crew of Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9), left to right, Owen K. Garriott, Ph.D., NASA; LCOL Byron K. Lichtenberg, D.Sc., USAF; LCOL Brewster H. Shaw, Jr., USAF; CAPT John Watts Young, USN (Ret.); Dr. Ulf D. Merbold, ESA; Robert A.R. Parker, Ph.D., NASA.
The flight crew of Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9), left to right, Owen K. Garriott, Ph.D., NASA; LCOL Byron K. Lichtenberg, D.Sc., USAF; LCOL Brewster H. Shaw, Jr., USAF; CAPT John Watts Young, USN (Ret.); Dr. Ulf D. Merbold, ESA; Robert A.R. Parker, Ph.D., NASA.

Columbia carried the NASA/ESA Spacelab module in the cargo bay. The mission was primarily to carry out 72 scientific experiments in astronomy, physics, biology, as well as to make observations of the Earth.

Columbia landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California at 23:47:24 UTC (3:47 p.m., PST), 8 December 1983. At 10 days, 7 hours, 47 minutes, 24 seconds, STS-9 was the longest space shuttle mission up to that time.

Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9) lands at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 November 1967

Major Michael J. Adams, United States Air Force, with an X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
Major Michael J. Adams, United States Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane, 56-6670, on Rogers Dry Lake, after his third flight in the program, 22 March 1967. (NASA)

15 November 1967: Major Michael James Adams, United States Air Force, was killed in the crash of the number three North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane, 56-6672.

Flight 191 of the X-15 program was Mike Adams’ seventh flight in the rocketplane. It was the 56-6672’s 65th flight. The flight plan called for 79 seconds of engine burn, accelerating the X-15 to Mach 5.10 while climbing to 250,000 feet (76,200 meters). Adams’ wife, Freida, and his mother, Georgia Adams, were visiting in the NASA control room at Edwards Air Force Base.

Balls 8, the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-008, flown by Colonel Joe Cotton, took off from Edwards at 9:12 a.m., carrying -672 on a pylon under its right wing, and headed north toward the drop point over Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada. The drop ship climbed to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

The X-15 launch was delayed while waiting for the Lockheed C-130 Hercules rescue aircraft to arrive on station. This required Adams to reset the Honeywell MH-96 Automatic Flight Control System to compensate for the changing position of the sun in the sky.

X-15A-3
North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672 immediately after launch over Delamar Lake, Nevada. Date unknown. (U.S. Air Force)

56-6672 was launched by Balls 8 at 10:30:07.4 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. As it dropped clear of the bomber, the rocketplane rolled 20° to the right, a normal reaction. Within one second, Mike Adams had started the XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine while bringing the wings level. The engine ignited within one-half second and was up to its full 57,000 pounds of thrust (253.549 kilonewtons) one second later. The engine ran for 82.3 seconds, 3.3 seconds longer than planned, causing the X-15 to reach Mach 5.20 (3,617 miles per hour/5,821 kilometers per hour) and to overshoot the planned altitude to peak at 266,000 feet (81,077 meters).

A North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane leaves a contrail as it climbs toward the edge of space. (NASA)
A North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane leaves a contrail as it climbs toward the edge of space. (NASA)

With the X-15 climbing through 140,000 feet (42,672 meters), the Inertial Flight Data System computer malfunctioned. Adams radioed ground controllers that the system’s malfunction lights had come on.

The flight plan called for a wing-rocking maneuver at peak altitude so that a camera on board could scan from horizon to horizon. During this maneuver, the Reaction Control System thrusters did not respond properly to Adams’ control inputs. The X-15 began to yaw to the right.

As it reached its peak altitude, 56-6672 yawed 15° to the left. Going over the top, the nose yawed right, then went to the left again. By the time the aircraft has descended to 230,000 feet (70,104 meters), it had pitched 40° nose up and yawed 90° to the right its flight path. The X-15 was also rolling at 20° per second. The rocketplane went into a spin at Mach 5.

10:33:37 Chase 1: “Dampers still on, Mike?”

10:33:39 Adams: “Yeah, and it seems squirrelly.”

10:34:02 Adams: “I’m in a spin, Pete.” [Major William J. “Pete” Knight, another X-15 pilot, was the flight controller, NASA 1]

10:34:05 NASA 1: “Let’s get your experiment in and the cameras on.”

10:34:13 NASA 1: “Let’s watch your theta, Mike.”

10:34:16 Adams: “I’m in a spin.”

10:34:18 NASA 1: “Say again.”

10:34:19 Adams: “I’m in a spin.”

Adams fought to recover, and at 118,000 feet (35,967 meters) came out of the spin, but he was in an inverted 45° dive at Mach 4.7. The X-15’s MH-96 Automatic Flight Control System entered a series of diverging oscillations in the pitch and roll axes, with accelerations up to 15 gs. Dynamic pressures on the airframe rapidly increased from 200 pounds per square foot (9.576 kilopascals) to 1,300 pounds per square foot (62.244 kilopascals).

At 62,000 feet (18,898 meters), still at Mach 3.93, the aircraft structure failed and it broke apart.

10:34:59 X-15 telemetry failed. Last data indicated it was oscillating +/- 13 g. Radar altitude was 62,000 feet (18,898 meters). The aircraft was descending at 2,500 feet per second (762 meters per second) and broke into many pieces at this time.

10:35:42 NASA 1: “Chase 4, do you have anything on him?”

10:35:44 Chase 4: “Chase 4, negative.”

10:35:47 NASA 1: “OK, Mike, do you read?”

10:35:52 Chase 4: “Pete, I got dust on the lake down there.”

North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672 crashed in a remote area, approximately 5½ miles (9 kilometers) north-northeast of Randsburg, California, a small village along U.S. Highway 395.

Major Michael James Adams was killed. This was the only pilot fatality of the entire 199-flight X-15 program.

North American Aviation X-15A 56-6672 on Rogers Dry Lake after a flight. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672 on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

An investigation by NASA’s Engineering and Safety Center determined that,

“. . . the root cause of the accident was an electrical disturbance originating from an experiment package using a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) component that had not been properly qualified for the X-15 environment. . .” and that there is “. . . no conclusive evidence to support the hypothesis that SD [spatial disorientation] was a causal factor. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that poor design of the pilot-aircraft interface and ineffective operational procedures prevented the pilot and ground control from recognizing and isolating the numerous failures before the aircraft’s departure from controlled flight was inevitable.”

A Comprehensive Analysis of the X-15 Flight 3-65 Accident, NASA/TM—2014-218538 (Corrected Copy)

Crushed forward fuseleage of X-15 56-6672. (NASA)
Crushed forward fuselage of North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672. (NASA)

Michael James Adams was born at Sacramento, California, 5 May 1930. He was the first of two sons of Michael Louis Adams, a telephone company technician, and Georgia E. Domingos Adams.

Michael Adams throws a javelin at Sacramento J.C. (1949 Pioneer)

After high school, Mike Adams attended Sacramento Junior College, graduating in 1949. He was an outfielder for the college baseball team, and threw the javelin in track & field.

Adams enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1950. He completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. In  October 1951, he was selected as an aviation cadet and sent to Spence Air Force Base, near Moultrie, Georgia, for primary flight training. Cadet Adams completed flight training at Webb Air Force Base, Big Spring, Texas. He graduated 25 October 1952. Adams was one of two distinguished graduates in his class and received a commission as an officer in the regular Air Force.

Second Lieutenant Adams was assigned to advanced flight training at Nellis Air Force Base, where he flew the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and North American Aviation F-86 Sabre.

In April 1953, Lieutenant Adams joined the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron at K-13, Suwon, Republic of Korea. He flew 49 combat missions.

Mr. and Mrs. Michael J. Adams, 15 January 1955. (Freida Adams Collection)

Following the Korean War, Lieutenant Adams was assigned to the 613th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 401st Fighter-Bomber Group, at England Air Force Base, Alexandria, Louisiana. The Squadron initially flew the F-86F Sabre and then transitioned to the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. Adams deployed to Chaumont Air Base, France, for a six-month temporary assignment.

While stationed at England AFB, Lieutenant Adams met Miss Freida Beard. They were married in a ceremony at the Homewood Baptist Church in Alexandria, 15 January 1955. They would have three children, Michael James, Jr., Brent, and Liese Faye Adams.

Michael J. Adams, 1958

In 1958, Adams graduated from the University of Oklahoma at Norman, with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering. He was a member of the university’s Institute of Aeronautical Sciences. Adams was next assigned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he studied astronautics.

Adams’ next military assignment was as a maintenance officer course instructor at Chanute Air Force Base, Rantoul, Illinois.

In 1962, Captain Adams entered an eight-month training program at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Class 62C, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California. He was awarded the A.B. Honts Trophy as the class’s outstanding graduate.

Captain Michael J. Adams with a Northrop F-5A. (NASA)

On 17 June 1963, Captain Adams entered the Aerospace Research Pilots School, which was also at Edwards. This was a seven-month course that taught flying skills in advanced vehicles, with an aim to prepare the graduates for space flight, and to create a pool of qualified military test pilots to be selected as astronauts. The Air Force estimated a need for 20 pilots a year for the upcoming X-20 Dyna-Soar and Manned Orbiting Laboratory (M.O.L.) programs. Adams graduated with the second of the four ARPS classes.

Adams then became an operational test pilot, conducting stability and control tests for the Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter. That was followed by an assignment as a project pilot for the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory.

On 13 November 1963, it was announced that Michael Adams was on of the selectees for the M.O.L. program. As a designated Air Force astronaut, Adams was involved in lunar landing simulations during the development of the Apollo Program lunar lander.

Artists conception of the U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory (M.O.L.)

Major Adams was selected as a pilot of the NASA/Air Force X-15 Hypersonic Research Flight Program. (He was the twelfth and final pilot to be accepted into the project.) He made his first X-15 flight on 6 October 1966. He flew the first X-15, 56-6770. A ruptured fuel tank forced him to make an emergency landing at Cuddeback Dry Lake, one of several pre-selected emergency landing sites, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Edwards. The duration of the flight was 8 minutes, 26.4 seconds. The X-15 had only reached an altitude of 75,400 feet (22,982 meters) and Mach 3.00.

A North American Aviation X-15 at Cuddeback Lake after an emergency landing. A Piasceki HH-21C is standing by. (U.S. Air Force)

His second flight took place on 29 November 1966. On this flight, he took the # 3 ship, 56-6672, to 92,100 feet (28,072 meters) and Mach 4.65. The flight lasted 7 minutes, 55.9 seconds.

For his third flight, Mike Adams was back in 56-6670, which had been repaired. He flew to an altitude of 133,100 feet (40,569 meters) and reached Mach 5.59 (3,822 miles per hour/6,151 kilometers per hour). This was Adams fastest flight. He landed at Edwards after 9 minutes, 27.9 seconds.

Flight number four for Adams took place on 28 April 1967. Again he flew the # 1 X-15. On this flight, he reached 167,200 feet (50,963 meters) and Mach 5.44. Elapsed time was 9 minutes, 16.0 seconds.

On 15 June 1967, Adams flew # 1 to 229,300 feet (69,891 meters) and Mach 5.14. Duration 9 minutes, 11.0 seconds.

On 25 August 1967, Adams made his sixth flight, his second in the third X-15, 56-6672. The rocket engine shut down after sixteen seconds and had to be restarted. The maximum altitude was 84,400 feet (25,725 meters) and Mach 4.63. The duration of this flight was 7 minutes. 37.0 seconds.

Mike Adams’ seventh flight in an X-15 took place 15 November 1967. This was the 191st X-15 flight, and the 65th for X-15 56-6672. Tests to be conducted were an ultraviolet study of the rocketplane’s exhaust plume; solar spectrum measurements; micrometeorite collection, and a test of ablative material for the Saturn rocket.

Adams reached 266,000 feet (81,077 meters) and Mach 5.20.

Having met the U.S. Air Force qualification for flight in excess of 50 miles (80.47 kilometers), Michael Adams was posthumously awarded the wings of an astronaut.

Major Michael James Adams, United States Air Force, was buried at Mulhearn Memorial Park, in Monroe, Louisiana.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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