Tag Archives: Test Pilot

19 July 1963

Joe Walker with the Number 2 North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6671, on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
Joseph A. Walker, NASA Chief Research Test Pilot
Joseph A. Walker, NASA Chief Research Test Pilot

19 July 1963: Between 1960 and 1963, NASA Chief Research Test Pilot Joseph Albert Walker made 25 flights in the North American Aviation X-15A hypersonic research rocketplanes. His 24th flight was the 21st for the Number 3 X-15, 56-6672, and the 90th of the X-15 program.

At 10:20:05.0 a.m., Walker and the X-15 were airdropped from the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 53-008, Balls 8, over Smith Ranch Dry Lake, Nevada. Walker fired the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine and over the next 84.6 seconds the engine’s 60,000 pounds of thrust drove the X-15 upward. The engine’s thrust on this flight was higher than expected, shutdown was 1.6 seconds late, and Walker’s climb angle was 1½° too high, so the X-15 overshot the predicted maximum altitude and its ballistic arc peaked at 347,800 feet (106,010 meters, 65.8 miles). The maximum speed was Mach 5.50 (3,714 miles per hour, 5,977 kilometers per hour).

Walker glided to a touch down at Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base California, after flying 311 miles in 11 minutes, 24.1 seconds of flight. On this flight, Joe Walker became the first American civilian to fly into Space.

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

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 July 1942

Test pilot Fritz Wendel with the Messerschmitt Me 262 V3 prototype, PC+UC. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Chief Test Pilot Fritz Wendel with the Messerschmitt Me 262 V3 prototype, PC+UC. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Test Pilot Fritz Wendel (L) talks with Willy Messerschmitt after the maiden flight of Me 262 V3.
Test Pilot Fritz Wendel (left) talks with Willy Messerschmitt after the maiden flight of Me 262 V3, 18 July 1942.

18 July 1942: In the late 1930s, Germany began developing a fighter powered by a turbojet engine. In early 1942 the first two prototypes of the Messerschmitt Me 262 began flight testing. They had two BMW 003 jet engines mounted on the wings, but for safety, a piston engine and propeller were mounted in the nose.

At 8:40 a.m. on 18 July 1942, V3, the third prototype, call sign PC+UC, made the first pure-jet flight when it took off from Leipheim, Bavaria with Messerschmitt’s Chief Test Pilot, Flugkapitän Fritz Wendel.

This prototype was powered by two Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet engines. The Jumo 004 had an eight-stage axial flow compressor, six straight through combustion chambers and a single-stage turbine. It produced 1,850 pounds of thrust (8.23 kilonewtons).

Messerschmitt Me 262 V3, PC+UC, takes off on its first flight at Leipheim, 18 July 1942.
Messerschmitt Me 262 V3, PC+UC, takes off on its first flight at Leipheim, 18 July 1942.

There were problems created by the airplane’s use of a tailwheel configuration. Turbulence from the wings and reflected jet exhaust blanked out the tail surface. When the Me 262 prototype reached flying speed, Wendel tapped the brakes. The tail popped up, free of the turbulence, and the jet fighter took off. Beginning with the fifth prototype, V5, all Me 262s were built with tricycle landing gear.

Messerschmitt Me 262 V3, PC+UC
Messerschmitt Me 262 V3, PC+UC

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 July 1919

Élise Léontine Deroche (Smithsonian Institution)
Élise Léontine Deroche poses with the airplane in which she would later be killed, at Le Crotoy, France, 18 July 1919. (Bettman/CORBIS)

18 July 1919: Élise Léontine Deroche was at Le Crotoy in northern France, co-piloting an experimental airplane, a civil variant of the Caudron G.3. The aircraft suddenly  pitched down and crashed, killing Deroche and the pilot, M. Barrault. Mme Deroche was 36 years old.

After four months of training under M. Chateu, an instructor for Voison, at Chalons, she made her first solo flight on Friday, 22 October 1909. On 8 March 1910, Élisa Léontine Deroche was the first woman to become a licensed pilot when she was issued Pilot License #36 by the Aéro-Club de France.

Élisa Léontine Deroche was born 22 August 1882 at nº 61, Rue de la Verrerie, in the 4e arrondissement, Paris, France. She was the daughter of a plumber, who in her early life hoped to be a singer, dancer and actress. She used the stage name, “Raymonde de Laroche.” She had a romantic relationship with sculptor Ferdinand Léon Delagrange, who was also one of the earliest aviators, and it was he who inspired her to become a pilot herself. They had a son, André, born in 1909. Delagrange was killed in an airplane accident in 1910. They never married.

In a 30 October 1909 article about her solo flight, Flight referred to Mme Deroche as “Baroness de la Roche.” This erroneous title of nobility stayed with her in the public consciousness. Deroche participated in various air meets, and on 25 November 1913, made a non-stop, long-distance flight of four hours duration, for which she was awarded the Coupe Femina by the French magazine, Femina.

During World War I she was not allowed to fly so she served as a military driver.

Many sources report that Mme Deroche set two altitude records at Issy-les Moulineaux in June 1919, just weeks before her death. One, for example, is said to have been 5,150 meters (16,896 feet), 12 June 1919. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), however, did not recognize records set by women until 28 June 1929.

Élisa Léontine Deroche was buried at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris, France.

Pilot Certificate number 36 of the Aéro-Club de France was issued to Mme. de Laroche. (Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace)
Pilot Certificate number 36 of the Aéro-Club de France was issued to Mme de Laroche. (Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1989

Bruce J. Hinds and Richard Couch. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

17 July 1989: The first Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, took off from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, on its first flight. The crew was Northrop Chief Test Pilot Bruce J. Hinds and Colonel Richard Couch, U.S. Air Force. The top secret “stealth bomber” prototype landed at Edwards Air Force Base 1 hour, 52 minutes later.

After completing the flight test program, -1066 was placed in storage until 1993, awaiting upgrade to the Block 10 operational configuration. In 2000 it was again upgraded to the Block 30 standard. It is now named Spirit of America and assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, the first “stealth bomber,” during a test flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1962

With the X-15 under its right wing, the Boeing NB-52A, 52-003, takes of from Edwards Air Force Base, 17 July 1962. The rocketplane's belly is covered with frost from the cryogenic propellants. (U.S. Air Force)
With Major Robert M. White and the X-15 under its right wing, the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, takes of from Edwards Air Force Base, 17 July 1962. The rocketplane’s belly is covered with frost from the cryogenic propellants. (U.S. Air Force)

17 July 1962: At 9:31:10.0 a.m., the Number 3 North American Aviation X-15, 56-6672, was airdropped from a Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, over Delamar Dry Lake, Nevada. Air Force project test pilot Major Robert M. (“Bob”) White was in the cockpit. This was the 62nd flight of the X-15 Program, and Bob White was making his 15th flight in an X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane. The purpose of this flight was to verify the performance of the Honeywell MH-96 flight control system which had been installed in the Number 3 ship. Just one minute before drop, the MH-96 failed, but White reset his circuit breakers and it came back on line.

North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)

After dropping from the B-52’s wing, White fired the X-15’s Reaction Motors XLR-99 rocket engine and began to accelerate and climb. The planned burn time for the 57,000-pound-thrust engine was 80.0 seconds. It shut down 2 seconds late, driving the X-15 well beyond the planned peak altitude for this flight. Instead of reaching 280,000 feet (85,344 meters), Robert White reached 314,750 feet (95,936 meters). This was an altitude gain of 82,190 meters (269,652 feet), which was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record.¹ The rocketplane reached Mach 5.45, 3,832 miles per hour (6,167 kilometers per hour).

Because of the increased speed and altitude, White was in danger of overshooting his landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He crossed the north end of Rogers Dry Lake and crossed the “high key”—the point where the X-15 landing maneuver begins—too high and too fast at Mach 3.5 at 80,000 feet (24,384 meters). Without power, White made a wide 360° turn over Rosamond Dry Lake then came back over the high key at a more normal 28,000 feet (8,534.4 meters) and subsonic speed. He glided to a perfect touch down, 10 minutes, 20.7 seconds after being dropped from the B-52.
A North American Aviation X-15 rocketplane just before touchdown on Rogers dry Lake. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter chase plane escorts it. The green smoke helps the pilots judge wind direction and speed. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 just before touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter chase plane escorts it. The green smoke helps the pilots judge wind direction and speed. (NASA)

This was the first time that a manned aircraft had gone higher than 300,000 feet (91,440 meters). It was also the first flight above 50 miles. For that achievement, Bob White became the first X-15 pilot to be awarded U.S. Air Force astronaut wings. His 314,750-foot altitude (95,936 meters) also established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world altitude record, which will probably never be broken. To qualify, a new record would have to exceed White’s altitude by at least 3%, or more than 324,419 feet (98,882.9 meters). As the FAI-recognized boundary of Space is 328,083.99 feet (100,000 meters), any prospective challenger would have to hit a very narrow band of the atmosphere.

Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force
Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force

Major White had been the first pilot to fly faster than Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He was the first to fly over 200,000 feet, then over 300,000 feet. He was a graduate of the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School and flew tests of many aircraft at Edwards before entering the X-15 program. He made at total of sixteen X-15 flights.

A P-51 Mustang fighter pilot with the 355th Fighter Group in World War II, he was shot down by ground fire on his fifty-third combat mission, 23 February 1945, and captured. He was held as a prisoner of war until the war in Europe came to an end in April 1945.

After the war, White accepted a reserve commission while he attended college to earn a degree in engineering. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, and assigned to a P-51 fighter squadron in South Korea. Later, he commanded the 22nd Tactical Fighter Squadron (flying the Republic F-105 Thunderchief supersonic fighter bomber) based in Germany, and later, the 53rd TFS. During the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Colonel White, as the deputy commander for operations of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, flew seventy combat missions over North Vietnam in the F-105D, including leading the attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge at Hanoi, 11 August 1967, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross.

He next went to Wright-Patterson AFB where he was director of the F-15 Eagle fighter program. In 1970 he returned to Edwards AFB as commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center. White was promoted to Major General in 1975.

General White retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1981. He died 10 March 2010.

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)
Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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