19.07.

1963: X-15: First Rocket-Powered Aircraft Reaches Outer Space

1963: X-15: First Rocket-Powered Aircraft Reaches Outer Space
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 19 July 1963
  • The X-15 aircraft did not take off from the ground but was drop-launched from a specially converted Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber, at an altitude of about ten kilometers. Interestingly, the X-15 still holds the official world record for the highest speed ever reached by an aircraft (7,274 km/h).

On this day in 1963, a rocket-powered aircraft reached the altitude of 100,000 meters. This altitude is considered the boundary of outer space (aka. The Kármán line), so the said flight can be classified as space flight.

It was the flight of North American X-15 in the service of NASA and the United States Air Force (USAF). The plane was piloted by Joseph A. Walker, who by exceeding 100 km in altitude qualified for the status of an astronaut. He was also the first American civilian who came into space (former American flights as part of the Project Mercury used military personnel as astronauts).

The North American X-15 rocket-powered aircraft still holds the official world record for the highest speed ever reached by an aircraft. Its maximum speed was 7,274 km/h. The X-15 aircraft did not take off from the ground but was drop-launched from a specially converted Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber, at an altitude of about ten kilometers.

The X-15 was powered by a rocket engine generating 250 kN of thrust (for comparison, the jet engines on the B-52 bomber have a maximum thrust of 76 kN each).

Unfortunately, the mentioned pilot Joseph A. Walker, who became an astronaut making that flight on this day, was later tragically killed in a catastrophic accident involving the supersonic bomber XB-70 Valkyrie (the fastest heavy bomber in history, capable of Mach 3).

Namely, Joseph A. Walker in his F-104 drifted into contact with the XB-70 Valkyrie due to air turbulence. His F-104 Starfighter struck the tail of the bomber and exploded, and the bomber then crashed into the ground.

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