SV-5D Lifting Body on display at the USAF Museum in Dayton, OH.
Fifty years ago, on March 5, 1967, the US Air Force made a second flight attempt in a series of experiments to test how a lifting body shape would control re-entry into the atmosphere. The first launch had been made in December of 1966, resulting in a crash of the test vehicle into the sea. On this second attempt, a lifting body (also known as the X-23 made by Martin Marietta) was launched atop an Atlas missile and the craft separated and simulated a re-entry. At Mach 2 a special designed parachute deployed to recover the vehicle, which was supposed to be picked up by a flying cargo aircraft which would grab the parachute.
X-23 atop an Atlas Missile before launch.
In the second flight, the parachute deployed but as the recovery aircraft flew by for inspection it noticed the proper parachute opening had not occurred, and so it would be dangerous to attempt an in-flight recovery. It was determined to allow the craft to descend to the sea for ship pick-up. Unfortunately the craft and parachute sank before the ship could arrive.
The third attempt on April 19 was a complete success. The parachute deployed properly, and the recovery cargo plane was able to snag the chute and bring the craft home. Although the craft was declared ready to be flown again, no further test flights with this design were made.
A view of the recovery cargo plane just before parachute capture.