Losses and Aviation Safety


Jack McKay, the X-15 pilot for that flight, retired from NASA because of his injuries, while the aircraft returned to Edwards AFB as the X-15A-2 after extensive repairs

Taken on Nov. 9, 1962, the interesting photo in this post shows the second X-15 (56-6671) flipped over on its back after an engine failure forced Jack McKay, a NASA research pilot, to make an emergency landing at Mud Lake, Nevada.

McKay was promptly rescued by a U.S. Air Force (USAF) medical team standing by near the launch site, and eventually recovered to fly the X-15 again. Nevertheless his injuries were more serious than at first thought and eventually forced his retirement from NASA.

The aircraft instead was sent back to the manufacturer, where it underwent extensive repairs and modifications. It returned to Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in Feb. 1964 as the X-15A-2, with a longer fuselage and external fuel tanks.

The basic X-15 was a rocket-powered aircraft developed to provide in-flight information and data on aerodynamics, structures, flight controls, and the physiological aspects of high-speed, high-altitude flight. A follow-on program used the aircraft as a testbed to carry various scientific experiments beyond the Earth’s atmosphere on a repeated basis.

The X-15 was flown over a period of nearly 10 years – Jun. 1959 to Oct. 1968 – and set the world’s unofficial speed and altitude records of 4,520 mph (Mach 6.7) and 354,200 ft in a program to investigate all aspects of manned hypersonic flight. Information gained from the highly successful X-15 program contributed to the development of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo manned spaceflight programs, and also the Space Shuttle program.

The X-15s, which were manufactured by North American Aviation, made a total of 199 flights.

Source and Photo credit: NASA

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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