Forty Years ago in the X-15 Flight Test Program, July - August 1961

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The NB-52B, 52-0008 had not launched an X-15 since March 30, 1961. It was engaged in a series of "functional" flights and tests with a pod that simulated the systems of the X-15. The pod was a modified fuel tank left over from the North American F-107 program. It was also equipped with accelerometers to determine the loads imposed on the X-15 while it was hanging from the pylon on the wing of the Stratofortress. The NB-52B flew seven pod flights between March and December.

The XLR-99 engine had been installed in the X-15-1 following its last flight with the XLR-11 engines on February 7. Commander Forrest Petersen was scheduled to make the first flight of the X-15-1 with the XLR-99 engine on July 14. It would be his third X-15 flight and the twenty-second flight of the X-15-1.

X-15-1 with its new XLR-99 engine on the wing of the NB-52A in the summer of 1961 The X-15-1 with its XLR-99 engine hangs from the pylon of the NB-52A. Photo E88-013-02 courtesy NASA Dryden.

Contamination of the anhydrous ammonia fuel resulted in the postponement of the first attempt to launch the X-15 with the XLR-99 engine. The launch was rescheduled for August 1, but it was canceled. Bad weather forced a postponement of the next launch attempt on August 2. Bad weather and a faulty propellant tank regulator aborted the launch attempt on August 3, and continued bad weather prevented a launch on August 4.

NB-52A with X-15-1 before mission 1-22-37 in the summer of 1961 NB-52A with X-15-1 on runway 04 before mission 1-22-37. This photo illustrates the changes to the appearance of the NB-52A that were made when it was at Boeing in Wichita, Kansas for maintenance earlier in the year. The exposed bare metal of the Stratofortress has been painted silver. The white area above the crew compartment has been extended forward over the pilots. The mothership wears the name "The High and Mighty One" and nose art depicting an eagle dropping an X-15 from its talons. The outline of the high-visibility Day-Glo red around the cockpit has changed. The Day-Glo red on the nose does not match the Day-Glo orange of the rear fuselage band. The rear fuselage band has been moved farther to the rear and extends onto the vertical stabilizer. The black chevron on the tail is much broader than it had been. Black anti-glare paint has been added around the rear gunner's station. The engine nacelles are painted silver, but will later be painted light gray. The white chin and belly radomes have been replaced with buff colored radomes. It can't be seen in this picture, but the flaps on both wings are now painted white. Photo EC6299 courtesy NASA Dryden.

RAF Squadron Leader Archer and Captain Jack Allavie in front of the NB-52A in the summer of 1961 Captain Jack Allavie and RAF Squadron Leader Harry Archer finally launched Commander Petersen from the NB-52A, 52-0003 on August 10. Photo courtesy Air Force Flight Test Center History Office.

The flight plan called for Petersen to keep the XLR-99 engine at 50% throttle to reach a maximum velocity of Mach 3.7, the slowest velocity for an X-15 flight since the last XLR-11 flight in February.

Map for mission 1-22-37 Because of the relatively low speed of the flight, the X-15-1 was launched over Silver Lake, just north of the town of Baker, California. Petersen actually reached Mach 4.11 on this flight.

Ground crew tends to X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake Ground crew tends to X-15-1 on Rogers Dry Lake. Rescue helicopter HH-21B, 53-4389 sits on the lakebed in the background. Photo courtesy AFFTC/HO.

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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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