Tag Archives: Space Shuttle

That Time An X-15 Rocket Plane Entered Hypersonic Spin At Mach 5 And Broke Apart Killing USAF Test Pilot.

U.S. Air Force test pilot Maj. Michael J. Adams was killed during X-15 Flight 191 on Nov. 15, 1967.

The North American X-15 was a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft 50 ft long with a wingspan of 22 ft. operated by the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft in the 1960s.

It was a missile-shaped vehicle with an unusual wedge-shaped vertical tail, thin stubby wings, and unique side fairings that extended along the side of the fuselage. It was powered by the XLR-99 rocket engine, manufactured by Thiokol Chemical Corp., pilot-controlled and  capable of developing 57,000 lb of thrust.

The aircraft was brought to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet by a NASA B-52 “mothership” then air dropped to that the rocket plane would have enough fuel to reach its high speed and altitude test points. Depending on the mission, the rocket engine provided thrust for the first 80 to 120 sec of flight. The remainder of the normal 10 to 11 min. flight was powerless and ended with a 200-mph glide landing.

The X-15 was air dropped by a NASA B-52 “mothership”

The X-15 was capable of climbing to the edge of space at an altitude in excess of 300,000 feet at speed of more than 4,500 miles per hour (+7,270 km/h). Actually, the target altitude for X-15 flights was set at 360,000 feet because there were concerns about the reentry from 400,000 feet, that was the maximum altitude the rocket plane was theoretically able to reach.

Two types of flight profiles were used during test flights depending on the purposes of the mission: a high-altitude flight plan that called for the pilot to maintain a steep rate of climb, or a speed profile that called for the pilot to push over and maintain a level altitude.

For flight in the dense air of the usable atmosphere, the X-15 used conventional aerodynamic controls but to maneuver in the thin air outside of the appreciable Earth’s atmosphere, where flight control surfaces were useless, the X-15 used a reaction control system (RCS) made of hydrogen peroxide thrust rockets. Those located on the nose of the aircraft provided pitch and yaw control; those on the wings provided roll control. A similar system was used on the Space Shuttle Orbiter, decades later: indeed, experience and data gathered from the X-15 program contributed to the development of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle manned spaceflight programs.

Cutaway drawing of the North American X-15.

Needless to say, handling the rocket-powered aircraft at the edge of space was particularly challenging.


X-15-3 (56-6672) made 65 flights during the program. It reached attaining a top speed of Mach 5.65 and a maximum altitude of 354,200 feet.

Official records say that only 10 of the 12 X-15 pilots flew Ship #3; eight of them earned their astronaut wings during the program (in fact, U.S. Air Force pilots who flew the X-15 to altitudes above 50 miles all received Astronaut Wings): Robert White, Joseph Walker, Robert Rushworth, John “Jack” McKay, Joseph Engle, William “Pete” Knight, William Dana, and Michael Adams all earned their astronaut wings in Ship #3.

Out of three X-15s built by North American for the program, Ship #3 is the only X-15 that has not survived, as it was lost on Nov. 15, 1967.

X-15-1, serial number 56-6670, is now located at the National Air and Space museum, Washington DC. North American X-15A-2, serial number 56-6671, is at the United States Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

Here’s the story of that last mission:

On 15 November 1967, Ship #3 was launched over Delamar Lake, Nevada with Maj. Michael J. Adams at the controls. The vehicle soon reached a speed of Mach 5.2, and a peak altitude of 266,000 feet.

During the climb, an electrical disturbance degraded the aircraft’s controllability. Ship #3 began a slow drift in heading, which soon became a spin. Adams radioed that the X-15 “seems squirrelly” and then said “I’m in a spin.”

Through some combination of pilot technique and basic aerodynamic stability, Adams recovered from the spin and entered an inverted Mach 4.7 dive. As the X-15 plummeted into the increasingly thicker atmosphere, the Honeywell adaptive flight control system caused the vehicle to begin oscillating. As the pitching motion increased, aerodynamic forces finally broke the aircraft into several major pieces.

Adams was killed when the forward fuselage impacted the desert. This was the only fatal accident during the entire X-15 program.  The canopy from Ship #3, recovered during the original search in 1967, is displayed at the San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, California.

Parts of the crashed X-15-3, serial number 56-6672, recovered in 1992 by Peter Merlin and Tony Moore (The X-Hunters) are on display at the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards.

According to NASA, the X-15s made a total of 199 flights over a period of nearly 10 years (from June 1959 to Oct. 1968) and set world’s unofficial speed and altitude records of 4,520 miles per hour or Mach 6.7 (set by Ship #2) and 354,200 feet (set by Ship #3).

Image credit: NASA

Inside Look at SpaceX Dragon V2, the first private spaceship to take astronauts to space

This could be the spaceship used to carry U.S. astronauts to space and back in the future.

At its California headquarters, SpaceX has unveiled the upgraded version of its Dragon spaceship that will be used to carry astronauts into orbit in the future.

Shorealone Films photographer Matt Hartman was there and took the images you can find in this article.

Top image

The new capsule, whose shape reminds that of the Apollo spacecraft, is equipped with 8 powerful engines and landing legs that make precision touchdowns, like those performed by helicopters, possible: in other words, rather than parachuting down into the ocean the new spaceship will gently land on any kind of surface.

“That is how a 21st century spaceship should land,” said SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk.

The Dragon v2, launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will initially fly without passengers at the end of next year, with first flight with people planned in 2016.

SpaceX Dragon cabin empty 2

The reusable spaceship could be used to launch into space NASA’s astronauts restoring Washington’s autonomous capability to launch and recover its astronauts.

U.S. lost such capability after the Space Shuttles were retired in 2011. Since then, American astronauts have travelled to the International Space Station thanks to Russia’s Soyuz, with expensive tickets that cost U.S. taxpayers some 60 million USD each.

SpaceX Dragon cockpit

SpaceX Dragon is, along with SNC Dream Chaser and Boeing CST-100, one of the three commercial spaceflight transportation systems currently being developed with the financial and technical support of NASA, that will eventually select two, or just one of these projects to launch men in space beginning in 2017.

The predecessor of the new Dragon v2 capsule, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft (Space Shuttle Orbiter replacement), has recently completed the third commercial resupply mission and fourth visit to the International Space Station with a launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (closely followed by the Russian ocean tug “Nikolay Chiker”).

SpaceX Dragon 1

All images: Matt Hartman


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Rare insight into Moroccan F-16C/D Block 52+ jets operations

Royal Moroccan Air Force F-16 jets as you have never seen them before.

The following interesting footage, brought to us by Farmorocco page, provides an interesting as well as rare insight into RMAF F16 Block 52+ operations at Ben Guerir Air Base, a former U.S. Air Force base located about 36 miles (58 km) north of Marrakech.

The video shows Moroccan F-16s operating from the base which served as a Transatlantic Abort Landing (TAL) site for the Space Shuttle, carrying CFT (Conformal Fuel Tanks), Sniper XP ATP pod, AIM120C7 and AIM9M air-to-air missiles, and AGM-88 HARMs (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles).

Noteworthy, pilots wear JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) helmets.


H/T to Farmorocco’s Ysf Zhr for the video.


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Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster as seen through AH-64 Apache camera

11 years ago today, Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart while entering higher atmosphere. Attack chopper camera filmed it.

On Feb. 1, 2003, two RNlAF (Royal Netherlands Air Force) pilots were training on an AH-64D Longbow Apache helicopter out of Fort Hood, Texas at about 100 feet above ground when they witnessed and recorded with the attack chopper’s onboard camera the dramatic footage of the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrating on its way back to the Kennedy Space Center at the end of STS-107 mission.


H/T Chris Venticinque for sending this over.


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Secretive X-37B is launched for a third classified mission around the planet

Dec. 11 saw the third launch of Boeing’s X-37B, the unmanned, reusable, mini-shuttle orbiter.

The space plane was launched atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, just after 1.00pm Eastern Time.

According to Flight Global this example is on its second flight demonstrating its ability to be re-used for space flight. The previous flight was 224 days in duration whilst the other example stayed aloft for a staggering 469 days on its mission.

The U.S. Air Force has again not disclosed the vehicle’s mission nor its expected duration, but United Launch Alliance whose rocket safely took the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) into orbit, provided a webcast of the launch.

Although once safely in orbit the broadcast was ended “at the request of our customer [the Air Force]”

It is thought that once the clandestine mission is complete, the orbiter will land on the Shuttle runway at Cape Canaveral.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com