Adams, Michael J. (Air Force, x-15 Flight191)



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From the earliest days of the U.S. space program, military pilots who have flown in space have been awarded astronaut wings upon completion of their flight in space. Eligible pilots have received the astronaut wings from the branch of service they are affiliated with. However, astronaut wings were not restricted to rocket flights.
Military pilots who have been able to fly their aircraft to altitudes greater than 50 miles have also been eligible to receive astronaut wings. To date, this rare feat has only been accomplished during the X-15 research program. Military pilots who flew their X-15 aircraft higher than 50 miles were awarded astronaut wings.
It should be noted that both military and civilian pilots participated in the X-15 program, although only the military pilots who flew higher than 50 miles were actually granted astronaut wings.
The civilian X-15 pilots who flew higher than 50 miles have never been officially recognized as astronauts. However, since these civilian pilots matched the performance criteria for astronaut wings established by the military, their names are listed here.
The following individuals flew higher than 50 miles in X-15 aircraft, and are listed by name, affiliation and the flight sequence numbers in the X-15 program during which each pilot achieved an altitude of greater than 50 miles:
Adams, Michael J. (Air Force, X-15 Flight191)
Dana, William H. (NASA, X-15 Flight174,197)
Engle, Joe H. (Air Force, X-15 Flight138,143,153)
Knight, William J. (Air Force, X-15 Flight190)
McKay, John B. (NASA, X-15 Flight150)
Rushworth, Robert A. (Air Force, X-15 Flight 87)
Walker, Joseph A. (NASA, X-15 Flight 77, 90, 91)
White, Robert A. (Air Force, X-15 Flight 62)
Note: Joe H. Engle was drafted as a Pilot Astronaut in NASA Group 5, and eventually flew in space aboard the Space Shuttle. Michael J. Adams was killed on November 15, 1967 during the only fatal accident of the X-15 program.
X-15 Pioneers Honored as Astronauts

08.23.05


In a turbulent era of 1960s Cold War confrontations, Moon race headlines, and war in southeast Asia, eight test pilots quietly flew the radical X-15 rocket plane out of the atmosphere and into the record books, earning astronaut status. Until Aug. 23, 2005, three of those early astronaut test pilots never received official recognition of their lofty membership as astronauts because only the military had astronaut wings to confer on their pilots at that time. Civilian NASA pilots had no such badge.
NASA Dryden pilot John McKay in front of X-15NASA Dryden pilot Bill Dana in front of X-15NASA Dryden pilot Joe Walker in front of X-15

Images above: NASA X-15 pilots John B. McKay, Bill Dana and Joseph A. Walker received civilian astronaut wings.


That was rectified when retired NASA pilot Bill Dana, and family members representing deceased pilots John B. McKay and Joseph A. Walker, received civilian astronaut wings acknowledging their flights above 50 miles high. The men were honored in a quiet ceremony Tuesday at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in California, site of their achievements. Bill Dana was philosophical about it; NASA pilots didn't wear wings anyway, and the concept of winning special wings was probably more crucial to a military pilot's career ladder, he explained.
From left, X-15 pilots Robert White, Dana, Neil Armstrong, Joe Engle. Sheri McKay Lowe, oldest daughter of Jack McKay; Bill Dana, and Jim Walker, son of Joe Walker

Image above left: Four of the five surviving X-15 pilots were on hand when astronaut wings were presented to the three NASA pilots who flew the X-15 rocket plane into space in the 1960s, Bill Dana, Joe Walker (deceased) and Jack McKay (deceased). From left, Robert White, Dana, Neil Armstrong, Joe Engle.


Image above right: Representatives of each of the X-15 pilots who received astronaut wings during the ceremony at NASA Dryden included Sheri McKay Lowe, oldest daughter of Jack McKay; Bill Dana, and Jim Walker, son of Joe Walker.
Dana's first of two flights into space took him 58.13 miles above the Mojave Desert on Nov. 1, 1966 as he tried to collect micrometeorite samples while learning about issues of sky brightness at that height. Joe Walker's third X-15 foray into space claimed the unofficial world altitude record of 354,200 feet, or 67.08 miles, on Aug. 22, 1963. Walker's unofficial record also marked the highest altitude to which the X-15 was ever flown. John McKay attained 295,600 ft or 55.98 miles on Sept. 28, 1965 during several research experiments.
The X-15 program used three piloted hypersonic rocket planes to fly as high as 67 miles and as fast as nearly seven times the speed of sound. Volumes of test data gleaned from 199 X-15 missions helped shape the successful Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle human spaceflight programs. Two X-15s are displayed at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C., and the Air Force Museum, Dayton, Ohio.
By Frederick A. Johnsen

NASA Public Affairs


X-15 Space Pioneers Now Honored as Astronauts

In a turbulent era of 1960s Cold War confrontations, moon race headlines, and war in southeast Asia, eight military and civilian test pilots flew the radical X-15 rocket plane out of the atmosphere and into the record books, earning astronaut status. Until today, three of those early astronaut test pilots never received official recognition of their lofty membership as astronauts because only the military had astronaut wings to confer on their pilots at that time. Civilian NASA pilots had no such badge.


That inequity was rectified today when retired NASA pilot Bill Dana, and family members representing deceased pilots John B. McKay and Joseph A. Walker, received civilian astronaut wings acknowledging their flights above 264,000 feet altitude -- 50 miles high. The men were honored in a quiet ceremony at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in California, site of their achievements.
Bill Dana was philosophical about it: NASA pilots didn't wear wings anyway, and the concept of winning special wings was probably more crucial to a military pilot's career ladder, he explained.
Dana's first of two flights into space took him 58.13 miles above the Mojave Desert on Nov. 1, 1966 on a mission to collect micrometeorite samples, while also learning about issues of sky brightness at that height.
Joe Walker's third X-15 foray into space claimed the unofficial world altitude record of 354,200 feet, or 67.08 miles, on Aug. 22, 1963. Walker's unofficial record also marked the highest altitude to which the X-15 was ever flown.
John McKay attained 295,600 feet altitude, or 55.98 miles, on Sept. 28, 1965 during during a flight that investigated several research experiments.
The X-15 program used three piloted hypersonic rocket planes to fly as high as 67 miles and as fast as nearly seven times the speed of sound. Volumes of test data gleaned from 199 X-15 missions from 1959 through 1968 helped shape the successful Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle human spaceflight programs. Two retired X-15s are displayed at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C., and the Air Force Museum, Dayton, Ohio.
X-15 Astronaut Flights Flight # Date Altitude (m) Pilot Vehicle

62 17 July 1962 95940 Robert M. White 3

77 17 January 1963 82810 Joseph A. Walker 3

87 27 June 1963 86870 Robert A. Rushworth 3

90 19 July 1963 106010 Joseph A. Walker 3

91 22 August 1963 107960 Joseph A. Walker 3

138 29 June 1965 85527 Joseph H. Engle 3

143 10 August 1965 82601 Joseph H. Engle 3

150 28 September 1965 90099 John B. McKay 3

153 14 October 1965 81230 Joseph H. Engle 1

174 1 November 1966 93540 William H. Dana 3

190 17 October 1967 85500 William J. Knight 3

191 * 15 November 1967 81080 Michael J. Adams 3

197 21 August 1968 81530 William H. Dana 1


* Fatal accident, aircraft destroyed. After reaching peak altitude, entered spin at Mach 5. Entered dive at 30,000 m, began high frequency pitch oscillations, aircraft disintegrated when these reached 15 Gs.
X-15 Vital Statistics
Contractor: North American Aviation, Inc.

Number Built: 3

Powerplant: One Reaction Motors XLR99 Pioneer (throttleable between 25,000 to 50,000 lbs thrust). Prior to November 1960, two Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 rockets with 8,000 lbs thrust each were used.

Wingspan: 22 ft, 4 in

Length: 52 ft, 5 in

Height: 12 ft, 7 in

Weight: 56,130 lbs gross

Cost: $300 million for design, development, and testing of 3 aircraft

Max Speed: Mach 6.70 (4,520 mph)

Ceiling: 324,200 ft (98,800 m)

Flight Controls: Two sets of guidance controls were used. Airplane flight controls were used while flying in the lower, thicker air. Thrusters were used for control at the edge of space.
The X-15 hull is made of Iconel X, a special steel alloy (steel and nickel) made by International Nickel Company. The hull is held together by stainless steel. Aluminum is also used internally where there are no heat or load problems.
The landing gear consists of two skids under the tail of the plane and a nose wheel.
The pilot wore a MC-2 full-pressure suit. The ejection seat rocket could develop 6100 pounds of thrust for a split second and would propel the pilot up and to the rear. The seat had stabilizing fins for the drop to 15,000 feet where the pilot would be released. If the ejection altitude was below 15,000 feet, the pilot was released after 3 seconds. After release from the seat, the pilot would descend with a 25 foot circular parachute.
There were a total of 199 X-15 flights between 8 June 1959 and 24 October 1968.
Where are the X-15's now?
Vehicle #1 is at the National Air and Space Museum. Vehicle #2 is at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. Vehicle #3 was destroyed in a crash.
X-15 Photos

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