X-15 rocket on wing pylon of the B-52 bomber.
Fifty years ago, on March 30, NASA was still learning everything they could about how to control a craft at high altitude, and effectively, the beginnings of outer space. NASA pilot Joe Walker, a test pilot flew the X-15 to an altitude of 169,000 feet while speeding along at Mach 3.95! It was the highest any man had flown at the time, and included two minutes of weightlessness at the apogee of the climb before heading back down to the ground.
Test Pilot Joe Walker.
When most people interested in X-planes and space history think of the X-15, we usually think of Scott Crossfield and Neil Armstrong, the two more popular pilots among the dozen that flew the rocket. Joe was in fact the first to fly the X-15, although Scott Crossfield became the first regular pilot for the craft. Joe was named second to be a regular X-15 pilot.
Back in the day... Joe Walker with the Bell X-1E, an early rocket test plane.
I don't feel I've given the X-15 pilots their due in this blog, so from time to time I'll try to cover some of their activities. The X-15 program was vital to our preparations for building manned spacecraft and the early flights into space. Kids and adults of all ages who are interested in airplanes know about the X-15, and many model airplane builders have a model X-15 in their collection. Joe would go on to some pretty impressive test flights, which we'll cover as we reach them. Eventually, he would be involved in one of the most controversial test plane incidents of all time. More on that in five years.