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X-1, X-2, X-15 Pilots and Lifting Body Aircraft Test Program

(Under construction) THE X-15 PROGRAM. The X-15 was designed to test the survivability of rocket powered aircraft at hypersonic speeds and at the outermost limits of the earth's atmosphere. The X-15 rocket plane was to be capable of a speed of 6,600 feet per second and an altitude of 250,000 feet. It had taken half a century for aircraft to reach Mach 2 and 80,000 feet. Now in the late 1950's, a rocket powered aircraft was designed to triple those achievements........With both the X-15 program and the early NASA space program occurring at about the same time, it is interesting to compare the X-15 rocket aircraft with NASA's 1st manned rocket, the Mercury-Redstone. The Mercury-Redstone was used to launch both Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom into space in 1961. The MR-3 rocket reached a maximum speed of 5,180 MPH and a maximum altitude of 116 miles. The X-15 reached a maximum speed of 4,520 MPH and a maximum altitude of 67 miles. The X-15 theoretically had the capability to reach an altitude of 100 miles, but could not safely reenter from that altitude......Three X-15 aircraft were built and they and 12 test pilots were involved in a total of 199 flights from June 1959 until December 1968. The highly successful X-15 Program achieved or exceeded all its planned goals and set aircraft records for both speed (Mach 6.7) and altitude (354,200 feet).

LIFTING BODY AIRCRAFT. From 1963 to 1975, six different NASA Lifting Body research aircraft (M2-F1, M2-F2, M2-F3, HL-10, X-24A and X-24B) made a total of 221 test flights at Edwards AFB, California. These wingless aircraft were used to test the concept of returning spacecraft from orbital flight and landing them on a runway........ The Lifting Body is an aircraft configuration where the body itself provides lift, eliminating the need for wings. Lifting Body research arose from the idea of spacecraft re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and landing much like an aircraft. A steerable spacecraft with wings and wheels would be a huge improvement over traditional space capsules with parachutes. However, wings would have to withstand high stresses and temperatures at hypersonic speeds. So, a proposed answer was to eliminate wings altogether and design the body to produce lift. However, the totally wingless, Lifting Body spacecraft concept was not proven to be totally suitable. While the Space Shuttle contains some Lifting Body principles, it relies more on the delta wing concept.