About Edwards - History
X-15 Pilots: Scott Crossfield

S
cott Crossfield grew up in California and Washington. He served with the U.S. Navy as a flight instructor and fighter pilot during World War II.

Scott CrossfieldFrom 1946-50, he worked in the University of Washington’s Kirsten Wind Tunnel while earning his bachelor's and master's degrees in aeronautical engineering. In 1950, he joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics' High-Speed Flight Station (now the NASA Dryden Flight Research Facility) at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., as an aeronautical research pilot.

Over the next five years, he flew nearly all of the experimental aircraft under test at Edwards, including the X-1, XF-92, X-4, X-5, D-558-I and the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket.

On Nov. 20, 1953, he became the first man to fly at twice the speed of sound as he piloted the Skyrocket to a speed of 1,291 mph (Mach 2.005). With 99 flights in the rocket-powered X-1 and D-558-II, he had — by a wide margin — more experience with rocketplanes than any other pilot in the world by the time he left Edwards to join North American Aviation in 1955. As North American's chief engineering test pilot, he played a major role in the design and development of the X-15 and its systems. Once it was ready to fly, it was his job to demonstrate its airworthiness at speeds ranging up to Mach 3. Because the X-15 and its systems were unproven, these tests were considered extremely hazardous.

On June 8, 1959, he completed the airplane's first flight, an unpowered glide from 37,550 feet. On Sept. 17, 1959, he completed the first powered flight. Because of delays in the development of the X-15's mammoth 57,000-pound thrust XLR-99 engine, the early flights were completed with a pair of interim XLR-11 rocket engines.

Shortly after launch on his third flight, one of these engines exploded. Unable to jettison his propellants, Crossfield was forced to make an emergency landing during which the excessive load on the aircraft broke its back just behind the cockpit. He was uninjured and the airplane was repaired.

On June 8, 1960, he had another close call during ground tests with the XLR-99 engine. He was seated in the cockpit of the No. 3 X-15 when a malfunctioning valve caused a catastrophic explosion. Remarkably, he was once again uninjured and the airplane was completely rebuilt. On Nov.15, 1960, he completed the X-15's first powered flight with the XLR-99 engine. Two flights later, on Dec. 6, 1960, he brought North American's demonstration program to a successful conclusion as he completed his final flight in the X-15.

Altogether, he completed 16 captive carry (mated to the B-52 launch aircraft), one glide and 13 powered flights in the X-15.

He remained at North American as systems director of test and quality assurance in the company's Space and Information Systems Division where he oversaw quality, reliability engineering and systems test activities for such programs as the Apollo command and service modules and the Saturn II booster.

In 1966, he became the division's technical director for research engineering and test. In 1967, he joined Eastern Airlines where he served as a division vice president for research and development and, subsequently, as a staff vice president working with U.S. military and civilian agencies on air traffic control technologies.

In 1974-5, he worked for Hawker-Siddeley as a senior vice president supporting HS 146 activities in the United States. In 1977, he joined the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology where he served, until his retirement in 1993, as a technical adviser on all aspects of civil aviation research and development and became one of the nation's leading advocates for a reinvigorated research airplane program.

Among his countless honors, Scott Crossfield has received the Lawrence Sperry Award, Octave Chanute Award, Iven C. Kincheloe Award, Harmon International Trophy, and the Collier Trophy. He has been inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame (1983), the International Space Hall of Fame (1988), and the Aerospace Walk of Honor (1990).

 

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Last updated: July 25, 2006        
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