Forty Years ago in the X-15 Flight Test Program, April - June 1961

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Captain Charles Kuyk and Lt. Colonel Richard Morgan flew the NB-52A, 52-0003 back to Edwards AFB from the Boeing plant in Wichita on March 23, 1961.

The X-15-1 was at North American in El Segundo for the installation of its XLR-99 engine.

Yuri Gagarin was launched on the first Vostok mission on April 12, eclipsing all previous absolute height and speed records. Alan Shepard was launched in Freedom 7 on the first suborbital Project Mercury flight in May. Subsequent X-15 records would have to be restricted to comparisons with other "winged vehicles".

The X-15-2 was programmed for a series of flights to expand its flight envelope. The flight envelope of an airplane is shown by a graph of its maximum and minimum speeds depending on altitude. Its next three flights were intended to explore progressively higher speeds.

Captain Jack Allavie and Captain Robert Mosley piloted the NB-52A for the launch of mission 2-15-29 on April 21. They carried the X-15 to Hidden Hills Lake in Nevada for the launch. Major Bob White set a new speed record of Mach 4.62 (3,074 miles per hour) in the X-15-2.

NB-52A with X-15 in the spring of 1961 X-15-2 on the NB-52A in the spring of 1961. The last mission mark is for mission 1-A-33 flown on December 15, 1960. The NB-52A was entirely repainted when it was at Wichita for maintenance. The X-15 mission marks were revised to occupy less space on the side of the fuselage. Photo courtesy AFFTC/HO.

A production unit from Frank Sinatra's Essex Productions was at Edwards AFB in April and May to film scenes for the movie X-15 . The film featured David McLean and Charles Bronson as X-15 pilots. Mary Tyler Moore played the wife of an X-15 pilot. Dick Gregory portrayed an Air Force spokesman. The movie was directed by Richard Donner, who later direccted Superman and Lethal Weapon. The studio manufactured a full size mock-up of the X-15 for filming. The film has never been released comercially on video. It is currently in the library of Turner Entertainment.

Link to the Internet Movie Database page for the movie X-15.

Movie X-15 publicity still, United Artists X-78-71 The X-15 mock-up was actually mounted on the pylon of the NB-52A for filiming. United Artists photo X-78-71.

Movie X-15 publicity still, United Artists X-124-69 Joe Walker visits the set of the movie X-15. Charles Bronson at right. United Artists photo X-124-69.

Movie X-15 publicity still, United Artists X-R282-17 The Air Force Flight Test Center provided vehicles for the action sequences. The mock-up of the X-15 can be identified by the lack of a nose gear door. United Artists photo R282-17.

David McLean publicity still from the movie "X-15" David McLean poses with the X-15 mock-up in a publicity still.

Joe Walker's next flight in the X-15-2 was scheduled for May 18, but it postponed for a day due to problems with the stable platform. Captain Allavie and Captain Kuyk flew the NB-52A with the X-15-2 and Walker aboard for a launch attempt on May 19, but it was aborted due to problems with radar and the auxiliary power units of the X-15.

The Air Force Flight Test Center hosted an open house on May 21. Captain Allavie and Captain Emil Sturmthal participated in the fly-by passes in the NB-52B. The X-15-2 was parked in front of the NB-52A on static display.

NB-52B taxis past the crowd at the 1961 AFFTC oopen house The NB-52B taxis past the crowd line following the flight display at the open house. By November the 36 inch tall U. S. AIR FORCE lettering on the fuselage would be replaced with 24 inch tall letters and the angled trailing edge of the dayglo orange around the cockpit would become a vertical line.

More pictures from the AFFTC open house can be found in Bob Archer's book Edwards Air Force Base, which can be ordered through

As the top speed of the X-15 increased, the length of its flight path also increased. It was necessary to launch the X-15 farther from Edwards Air Force Base. Joe Walker would be launched over Mud Lake, Nevada for the first time on the sixteenth flight of the X-15-2.

Captain Allavie and Major Fizthugh Fulton launched Joe Walker on mission 2-16-31 on May 25. Despite having to restart the XLR-99 engine after launch, he set another new speed record of Mach 4.95 (3,307 miles per hour).

Cloudy weather postponed Major Bob White's next launch attempt on June 20. Three days later, Captain Allavie and Major Fulton launched Major White on the seventeenth flight of the X-15-2. He made the first flight faster than Mach 5, setting yet another new speed record of Mach 5.27 (3,603 miles per hour) on mission 2-17-33.

The X-15-2 had set one new altitude record and four new speed records (for winged vehicles) on its five most recent flights. Major White had made the first Mach 4 flight and the first Mach 5 flight in the last three months.

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Books about the X-15 available from

X-15 (The Nasa Mission Reports) X-15 (The Nasa Mission Reports)

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.

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.

*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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