X-15 pilot report, part 2:
X-15 Cockpit Check

X-15 cockpit, late configuration

This is a cozy place, don't mess with it if you're claustrophobic. Admittedly it has just a bit more room than a sailplane cockpit, but there's LOTS of stuff in it and you can't see much when the canopy is closed. You get two windows barely larger than slits to peer out of -- the rest is utterly metallic and opaque.

One of the nice touches on top is a head brace that folds downward in front of you.That makes deceleration at reentry a fair bit easier to handle. X-15 upper cockpit side view Another necessary nicety is that the windows are double glazed. In early flights the X-15 pumped Heated gaseous nitrogen between the panels keeps them from icing over. This wasn't entirely trouble-free, so it wasn't long before the nitrogen gap was replaced by a transparent electrical heating element.

The cockpit is unpressurized below 35,000 feet, but it's air conditioned. Above 35K it's pressurized to 3.5 psi by nitrogen. Your pressure suit gets another nitrogen feed to keep it at 3.6 psi.

The ejection seat is almost an airplane itself. If you need it, it'll unfold fins, put you in a nice attitude, X-15 ejection seat escort you to low altitude, then blow pieces of itself away and deploy your chute. According to the manual, it will "permit safe pilot ejection up to Mach 4.0, in any attitude, and at any altitude up to 120,000 feet". You get your choice about how much to trust those limits, such an ejection has never been done.

Seat diagrammedium scale  large scale

Labelled drawing of X-15 ejection seat
Once settled in the seat, you're looking at about 130 odd gages, switches, lights, and controls of assorted descriptions.

First, there's a conventional center stick and rudder pedals. There's also a console stick at your right hand for use when G loads make it difficult to use the center stick. Both are mechanically coupled together and to a system of bell cranks that sum their inputs with those from the Stability Augmentation System (SAS).
X-15 cockpit, early configuration
A horizontal stabilizer position indicator is located on the cockpit wall next to the console stick. This is a must-check item before dropping from the B-52 carrier aircraft and before beginning reentry.
X-15 cockpit flight controls diagram Flight control diagram
A third stick, for the ballistic control system, is at your left hand. When the ballistic control rockets are armed, you can:

Other ballistic inputs come from the Reaction Augmentation System (RAS), which is the no-air equivalent of the SAS.
X-15 cockpit, left side X-15 cockpit, right side

The same left-side panel houses the speed brake lever and the throttle. The throttle allows a choice of "off" or any thrust setting between 50% and 100%. In the early days it could go down to 30%, but the XLR-99 rocket motor was prone to flickering out when it was developing only a measly 4 1/2 tons of thrust.

The main instrument panel is divided into three sections: Engine instruments on the lower left, APU's on the lower right, and flight instruments at top center. Both engine and APU sections are mainly an assortment of pressure gages, temperature gages, fire warning lights, and sundry switches.

X-15 iinstrument panel, 1962 configuration Legend identifying X-15 instrument panel gauges and controls
The most prominent flight instrument is a big attitude indicator, planted squarely in the middle. It looks fairly ordinary, but it's accurate throughout 360 degrees of rotation around any axis you care to name.

Scanning clockwise around the attitude indicator, starting just below it, the flight instruments are...

We'll skip the remaining cockpit clutter, only because it's generally less amusing, though some of it will appear in the test flight.
X-15 cockpit center pedestal

This pilot report is split into these four parts:

    1.  X-15 General Description & Walkaround
    2.  X-15 Cockpit Check
    3.  X-15 Flight:  Heading Out to Launch
    4.  X-15 Flight:  Flying the Mission and Returning

Related to all four sections:

    Photo credits and pointers to related resources

Send questions and comments on the SierraFoot X-15 pages to Paul Raveling.
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