At the Center of Defense and Discovery
A special alloy known as Inconel X gave the X its distinctive black color. Made mostly of nickel with chromium, iron, and niobium columbium , Inconel X was highly resistant to heat while maintaining its strength. After initial test flights in , Xs became the first aircraft to reach Mach 4, 5, and 6, and to operate well above 30, meters , feet. The X landed on the dry lake bed of Edwards Air Force Base and slid to a stop using a nose wheel and two large extendable skids visible under the rear of the aircraft.
The flights of the X program gathered valuable data for the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs. The X pioneered new heat-resistant materials, as well as flight control systems that could transition between air and space. The X required conventional aerodynamic control surfaces to operate within the atmosphere and special "thruster" reaction control rockets located in the nose and wings of the aircraft to enable the pilot to maintain control when flying on the fringes of space.
This object is not on display at the National Air and Space Museum. It is either on loan or in storage.
The North American X rocket-powered research aircraft bridged the gap between manned flight within the atmosphere and manned flight beyond the atmosphere into space. After completing its initial test flights in , the X became the first winged aircraft to attain velocities of Mach 4, 5, and 6 four, five, and six times the speed of sound.
Because of its high-speed capability, the X had to be designed to withstand aerodynamic temperatures on the order of 1, degrees F. Air-launched from a modified Boeing B Stratofortress aircraft, the X required conventional aerodynamic control surfaces to operate within the atmosphere and special "thruster" reaction control rockets located in the nose and wings of the aircraft to enable the pilot to maintain control when flying on the fringes of space.
This plan was dropped in favor of using a blunt-body reentry vehicle. Three X research aircraft were built and flown, completing a total of research flights. The X15 2 was rebuilt following a landing accident as the advanced XA-2, having increased propellant capacity and, hence, a higher potential performance. The X 3 featured an advanced cockpit display panel and a special adaptive control system. The aircraft made many noteworthy flights until it crashed during atmospheric reentry, following pilot disorientation and a control-system failure. The pilot, Capt.
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Michael Adams, was killed. The X flew faster and higher than any other airplane. Various proposals were set forth for modifying the aircraft to accomplish new and even more radical tasks. At one point, NASA scientists planned to test a hydrogen-fueled supersonic combustion ramjet engine mounted on the Xs lower vertical fin. A mock-up of this proposed installation was flight-tested on the XA Other ideas included modifying the X with a slender delta wing and using the aircraft as a booster for small satellite launch vehicles.
None of these ideas, however, came to fruition.
Team Rocket Aircraft
The X spearheaded research in a variety of areas: hypersonic aerodynamics, winged reentry from space. A total of technical documents were produced, equivalent to the output of a typical 4,man federal research center for more than two years.
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Air Force. Navy, and private industry. North American was selected as prime contractor on the project following a competition in which Douglas. By the time of its first airborne test, flight research was too complex to rely on simple air-to-ground communications near a test field.
North American X-15
It was planned that the X15 would be air-launched from a Boeing B near Wendover. The range lay along a series of flat dry lakes. Nothing this extensive had previously existed in flight research, and it foreshadowed the worldwide tracking network developed by American manned spacecraft ventures. The X would complete its research mission and then. Because the X featured a cruciform tail surface arrangement.
The X is the fastest aircraft ever made. On October 3, , pilot William J. Eight X pilots flew higher than 80 kilometers 50 miles above the Earth and were thus awarded astronaut wings: Michael J. White USAF. Notice how small the wings are.
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Rocket thrusters in the nose and wings kept the X steady when flying out of the atmosphere. Similar thrusters were used in Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle. Like SpaceShipOne, the X was air dropped and is rocket powered. The X was dropped from under the wing of a B mothership. Scott Crossfield made the first unpowered glide flight of a North American X and was the first to fly faster than Mach 2 in the Douglas D Skyrocket.
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