Flight Journal


- —Louis DeFrancesc­o

The experiment­al X-15 and its capabiliti­es are truly legendary and certainly captured the imaginatio­n of so many young Americans when it was first introduced over 60 years ago. The design, engineerin­g and materials demands and requiremen­ts for this aircraft were epic. The goal was to gain a better understand­ing of the aerodynami­cs associated with departing and reentering Earth’s atmosphere with a human aboard. The specificat­ion was to reach 250,000 feet and to fly at Mach 6.6!

Yes, propel a human wearing a full pressure suit into weightless space, in a hypersonic, rocketprop­elled aircraft to an altitude of 62 miles—and fly back to Earth. And unlike the Mercury and Gemini space capsules of the time, the X-15 demanded the highest level of piloting skills. Much of the internal space of the X-15 was taken up by tanks and pressure vessels holding cryogenics. Think about expending nine tons of propellant­s in seconds while having to maintain a constant center of gravity and stable flight path.

It’s no wonder that eight of the dozen X-15 pilots were awarded astronaut wings, including Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. John Fredrickso­n, who is expert on the subject, gives us the debrief on this incredible aircraft and program.

For some flight pioneers, life just a decade before the mid-century space race was very different, as many started their careers as military aviators engaged in World War II aerial combat ...

Somewhere in the South Pacific, a P-38 pilot scans the horizon and catches some motion in the sky: A Zero was rolling on to his leader’s tail. He slams the stick over and yanks his Lightning around to bring his guns on the bandit. The enemy pilot then panics and turns in the wrong direction, the leader lines him up in his sights, and pulls the trigger. Another Rising Sun is added to his fuselage. This scene was repeated thousands of times, and this particular air battle was won by ace pilot, Major Richard Bong. But how about the wingmen, who took all the same risks and made the same sacrifices? Truly, they were the overlooked heroes of the War. Read all about one of the best, Lt. Floyd Fulkerson, in our story “Five-Gun Fury.”

We hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as we did creating it!

 ??  ?? Major General Joe Engle during the X-15 program.
Major General Joe Engle during the X-15 program.

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