Forty Years ago in the X-15 Flight Test Program, January 1960

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Forty years ago, in January 1960, the X-15-1, 56-6670 had returned to Edwards Air Force Base after the installation of its pair of Reaction Motors XLR-11 engines. It had been carried on four captive flights before it made a single glide flight on June 8, 1959.

The X-15-2, 56-6671 was at North American Aviation in El Segundo for repairs following the engine explosion and structural failure that it suffered on mission 2-3-9* on November 5, 1959. On its three flights, it had reached a maximum speed of Mach 2.15 and a maximum altitude of 61,781 feet. Scott Crossfield had been the sole X-15 pilot during the contractor demonstration phase.

The NB-52A takes off with the X-15-1 on one of the first three captive carry flights in March and April, 1959. The first flight on March 10 was an intentional captive flight. Subsequent flights on April first and tenth were aborted attempts at a glide flight. On flight 1-A-3, the unexpected high intensity noise produced by the turbulence in the notch in the trailing edge of the NB-52A's wing cracked the skin of the upper rudder of the X-15. The dayglo orange paint adorning the nose of the NB-52A can be seen to extend around the bottom of the fuselage. The badge of the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) has been applied to the side of the fuselage, below the cockpit. Only the flaps on this side of the NB-52A are painted white. Photo courtesy: AFFTC/HO.

NB-52A, 52-0003 with X-15, 56-6670 at May 19, 1959 Edwards AFB Open House The North American X-15-2 made its first public appearance at the Edwards Air Force Base Open House and Airshow Display, held on May 19, 1959. It was posed with the NB-52A, 52-0003. The X-15-2 was delivered with only one VHF antenna on the lower fuselage. Later in the program a second VHF antenna would be added. Go to more photos of the 1959 Edwards AFB Airshow. Photo by Richard Lockett Sr.

X-15-1 launched on first flight by NB-52A on June 8, 1959 The X-15-1 with Scott Crossfield at the controls was launched from the NB-52A on its first flight on June 8, 1959. Charles Bock and Major Jack Allavie were piloting the NB-52A. This was the only intentional glide flight of the X-15 program. Photo courtesy Air Force Flight Test Center History Office.

X-15-2 being carried by the NB-52A in fall of 1959 The X-15-2 being carried by the NB-52A in October or November 1959. Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of the X-15. Jack Allavie and either Charles Bock or Fitzhugh Fulton are aboard the NB-52A. The X-15 mission mark visible next to the astrodome represents mission 2-A-4, an aborted launch attempt flown on October 10, 1959. Photo courtesy Air Force Flight Test Center History Office.

X-15 jettisoning propellants over the town of Rosamond, November 5, 1959 On November 5, 1959, the third flight of the X-15-2 was cut short by an explosion in one of the combustion chambers of the lower XLR-11 rocket engine 13.9 seconds after ignition of the first chamber. The X-15 is seen here jettisoning propellants with the town of Rosamond in the background. Scott Crossfield landed the X-15 on Rosamond Dry Lakebed on the west end of the Air Force Base. He was unable to jettison all of the propellants and landed heavy. Photo courtesy Air Force Flight Test Center History Office.

X-15 with broken back on Rosamond Dry Lake, November 5, 1959 The X-15-2 on Rosamond Dry Lake following mission 2-3-9*. The fuselage failed when the nose gear impacted the ground. The shock absorbing ability of the front landing gear strut was impaired by foaming of the oil in the strut when it was extended. The back of the X-15 broke at a structural join behind the cockpit. It was trucked back to Los Angeles for repairs. Photo E-9543 courtesy NASA Dryden.

B-52B, 52-0008 had joined the X-15 program in November 1959 and carried the designation NB-52B. It carried the X-15-1 for the first time on December 16, 1959. The first attempt to make a powered flight in the X-15-1 was aborted five seconds before launch due to a radio malfunction.

The first powered flight of the X-15-1 was launched on January 23, 1960. Fitzhugh Fulton and Charles Kuyk launched Scott Crossfield from the NB-52B on mission 1-2-7*. Crossfield reached a speed of Mach 2.53 and an altitude of 66,844 feet during 4 minutes and 27 seconds of rocket-powered flight. The only pilots to have flown faster were Pete Everest, Ivan Kinchloe, and Mel Apt in the X-2 in 1956.

X-15 Forty Years Ago: Next chapter

X-15 Forty Years Ago: Table of Contents

Link to NASA Dryden X-15 Photo Gallery Contact Sheet.

The best source of information about the X-15 program is X-15 Research Results, which is now available online.

Books about the X-15 available from

Angle of Attack : Harrison Storms and the Race to the Moon by Mike Gray. The biography of Harrison Storms, who was instrumental in the development and operation of the X-15.

At the Edge of Space : The X-15 Flight Program by Milton O. Thompson. The story of test flying the X-15 from the point of view of the pilot.

*The first position of the mission number identifies which X-15 was involved, the second number indicates how many times that X-15 had been launched, and the third number indicates how many times it had been carried by an NB-52.

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