North American X-15

The North American X-15 is a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft. It was operated by the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft. The X-15 set speed and altitude records in the 1960s, reaching the edge of outer space and returning with valuable data used in aircraft and spacecraft design. The X-15's highest speed, 4,520 miles per hour (7,274 km/h; 2,021 m/s), was achieved on 3 October 1967, when William J. Knight flew at Mach 6.7 at an altitude of 102,100 feet (31,120 m), or 19.34 miles. This set the official world record for the highest speed ever recorded by a crewed, powered aircraft, which remains unbroken.[1][2][3][4]

X-15
The X-15 pulling away from its drop launch plane
Role Experimental high-speed rocket-powered research aircraft
Manufacturer North American Aviation
First flight 8 June 1959
Introduction 17 September 1959
Retired December 1968
Primary users United States Air Force
NASA
Number built 3

During the X-15 program, 12 pilots flew a combined 199 flights. Of these, 8 pilots flew a combined 13 flights which met the Air Force spaceflight criterion by exceeding the altitude of 50 miles (80 km), thus qualifying these pilots as being astronauts. The Air Force pilots qualified for military astronaut wings immediately, while the civilian pilots were eventually awarded NASA astronaut wings in 2005, 35 years after the last X-15 flight.[5][6]


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