People: Research pilots and others

People are the heart and soul of a successful research effort such as the X-15 program and similar pioneering aviation research. Those who are best known are the test pilots, whose skill and insight are vital. They are those who directly execute the research, often at the risk of their own lives. It is their flights that produce spectacular records; it is also their countless less remarkable flights that gather volumes of data to build our scientific and engineering knowledge of new realms of flight.
First 6 X-15 research pilots

Bell X-2 and support group
Bell X-2 with supporting people and equipment

The X-15 program involved a much larger support effort.
It's important to realize that program success depends on countless others.  In the words of X-15 test pilot Robert White:
"... I would add that accomplishments like those in the X-15 are not the result of only one man's effort. Many people were involved with all kinds of talent and knowledge to insure that what I did would be a success. Just as in any endeavor, people must act together in a societal arrangement to satisfy our goals."
Over time this web page will add content to recognize some of these other people who contributed to the X-15 program. Others who will be acknowledged include some of those involved in earlier U.S. rocket aircraft programs, which were important contributors to the knowledge needed for the X-15. Finally, a few additional acknowledgements will honor those in successor programs, which in turn applied lessons learned through X-15 flight research.

X-15 Research Pilots...
All X-15 research pilots were engineers as well as pilots. Some left a record of engineering achievement that is little known but that may in fact have been at least as important as their flight experience. Scott Crossfield is foremost on this list for his work with North American Aviation in development of the X-15. Milt Thompson took on research engineering tasks and projects throughout his service at NASA Dryden, not only on the X-15 but also on lifting bodies and other projects. He left a collection of engineering notes which remains as the Thompson Collection in the NASA Dryden History Office. Neil Armstrong,  then as now, was a research engineer first and a research pilot second. His contributions in both areas continued when he moved in 1962 from the X-15 program to Gemini, then to Apollo.

Engineering and science were integral parts of the X-15's flight research program, it required tall of its pilots to have special skills in this area. For that reason they are referred to here as research pilots rather than as test pilots.
Scott Crossfield
First X-15 test pilot (for NAA) and major contributor to design and development in an engineering role.  Extensive earlier flight research included becoming the first person to exceed Mach 2, in the Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket.
NAA Scott Crossfield in X-15 cockpit
Joe Walker
First NASA pilot to fly the X-15, Walker was NASA Dryden's chief pilot.  His unofficial altitude record of 354,200 feet still stands.  Walker also had extensive research experience in earlier rocket aircraft.
Joe Walker with X-15 after a flight
Robert M. White (Bob White)
First Air Force pilot to fly the X-15, White became the first to exceed Mach 4, Mach 5, and Mach 6.  His official FAI altitude record for winged aircraft (314,750 ft) probably will never be broken, since the FAI regards altitudes over 100 km. as space.
USAF Robert White with X-15 after a flight
Neil Armstrong
Armstrong's life in aviation and space flight is a long story of adventures in flight and distinguished achievements in both piloting and engineering -- before, during, and after his work with the X-15. He was the youngest pilot selected to fly the X-15.
NASA Neil Armstrong in X-15 cockpit
John B. McKay  (Jack McKay) NASA John B. (Jack) McKay
Robert Rushworth USAF Robert Rushworth portrait with X-15
Forrest Petersen Navy Forrest Petersen with X-15 after a flight
Milt Thompson NASA Milt Thompson with X-15, thumbnail
Joe Engle NASA Joe Engle in X-15 cockpit, thumbnail
William "Pete" Knight
Best known for his speed record of Mach 6.7, 4,520 mph, in the X-15A-2. In another flight he saved the #1 X-15 and himself through exceptional piloting skill after dual APU failures on an altitude flight. In later years he entered public affairs, finishing as a California State Senator.
USAF Pete Knight with X-15A-2, thumbnail
Bill Dana NASA Bill Dana with X-15, thumbnail
Mike Adams USAF Mike Adams thumbnail

Others involved with the X-15 program
Harrison Storms ("Stormy")
Chief engineer, North American Aviation's equivalent to Lockheed's Kelly Johnson
Paul Bikle
Director of NASA Dryden during the X-15 program
James Love
NASA program manager for the X-15
Maurice King
Mechanic on the X-15 and other programs -- one of the many people

   ...  and more

Predecessors:  A few key test pilots and others from earlier rocket aircraft research

Chuck Yeager
Legendary fighter pilot and test pilot.  Best known for research flights in the Bell X-1 and X-1A, especially for being the first to fly faster than Mach 1.

Frank Everest (Pete Everest)
Test pilot for numerous programs, including the Bell X-1 and X-2

Iven Kincheloe
Test pilot best known for Bell X-2 flights, had been designated as lead pilot for the X-15 prior to his fatal F-104 accident.

    ...  and more

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