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CoolPix: Lean & Mean North American X-15 (1961)

(click pic for hi-res)

 I was born the same year this photo was taken of the #3 North American X-15 sitting on a dry lakebed, and I gotta say it was pretty cool growing up with the X-15 program still operational. This image seems to say it all when it comes to how cool the X-15 is. It's lean, mean and so secure in what it's designed to do that it didn't even need wheels on the main gear! It's part Batman and part astronaut all rolled into one.

 This is the #3 aircraft (the last one built) - and tragically, it's the only one totally lost in the program. On November 15, 1967 Michael James Adams lost his life when the X-15 went out of control and broke apart. Accident details from his wiki entry: Adams' seventh X-15 flight, flight 3-65-97, took place on 15 November 1967. He reached a peak altitude of 266,000 feet (81 km); the nose of the aircraft was off heading by 15 degrees to the right. While descending, at 230,000 feet (70 km) the aircraft encountered rapidly increasing aerodynamic pressure which impinged on the airframe, causing the X-15 to enter a violent Mach 5 spin. As the X-15 neared 65,000 feet, it was diving at Mach 3.93 and experiencing more than 15-g vertically (positive and negative), and 8-g laterally, which inevitably exceeded the design limits of the aircraft. The aircraft broke up 10 minutes and 35 seconds after launch, killing Adams. The United States Air Force posthumously awarded him astronaut Wings for his last flight.

 The other two X-15's remain today with #1 at the National Air & Space Museum and #2 at the Air Force Museum. The X-15 represents brave men courageously exploring the boundary of earth... and the risks that came with it.


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Reader Comments (3)

My favorite Estes model rocket. 'Course I HAD to build it without a 'chute thinking it might glide. It a lawn dart, hit about 1/2 mile away. I still have a scrapbook I made for scouts full of space stuff that includes X15.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterseerjfly

I THOUGHT so! Marrt, you and I share the same birth year. Near as I can figure, it's the only year that reads the same when you turn it upside down... I, too, have a special place in my aero heart for the X-15. There just ain't nuthin' else like it. In fact, I can give it credit for the start of my interest in pretty much anything that flies - the first winged thing I can remember was a red plastic X-15 I had...

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarc

I grew up with my Dad often working overtime as a leadman at North American Aviation. He was working on the X-15. I was fascinated with the plane and its implications and wrote a report on it for school. Scott Crossfield, then the North American Aviation test pilot (and he had a great deal to do with the design of the plane, having a Ph.D. in aeronautic engineering) was my hero. Dad often told tales about Crossfield, for whom he had great respect, he would remark that the man had ice water in his veins. I talked to Crossfield on the phone later in his (and my) life. I still have a piece of the X-15 from the episode where it broke in half on landing once. After the accident investigation was long over they were told to throw the material in the scrap pile. It is a piece from the Inconel outer skin. I still have a picture hanging here in my office of the X-15 with Scott Crossfield and Walter Cronkite in front of it. As Dad would say, she was a magnificent bird.

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Jerry Howard

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