The North American X-15 is considered to be the fastest manned aircraft ever built and operated. It was a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft that was operated jointly by NASA and the United States Air Force. The X-15 was designed to fly at speeds of Mach 6 and above, which is equivalent to around 7,500 km/h. It was built with advanced technologies and materials that allowed it to withstand the extreme heat generated by flying at such high speeds.
The X-15 was first flown in 1959 and continued to fly until 1968, setting numerous world records along the way. The aircraft was launched from a B-52 bomber and then fired its rocket engines to reach the edge of space, at an altitude of around 100 km. It was then able to perform scientific experiments, test new technologies, and gather data on high-speed flight.
One of the key advantages of the X-15 was its ability to be piloted by human operators. The aircraft was able to perform maneuvers that were not possible with unmanned vehicles, and pilots were able to make split-second decisions based on the data they were receiving. This made the X-15 an invaluable tool for scientific research and technological development.
The X-15 program was not without risks, however. The aircraft was involved in a number of accidents, some of which were fatal. Despite this, the program continued to push the boundaries of high-speed flight and set numerous records that still stand to this day. Some of the most notable achievements of the X-15 include:
On October 3, 1967, the X-15 set a world speed record for manned aircraft of Mach 6.72, which is equivalent to around 7,274 km/h.
On August 22, 1963, Joseph A. Walker flew the X-15 to an altitude of 107.96 km, becoming the first person to reach the edge of space in a winged aircraft.
On June 27, 1962, Robert M. White became the first pilot to exceed Mach 5 in the X-15, reaching a speed of Mach 5.27.
On November 15, 1967, William J. “Pete” Knight set a world speed record for manned aircraft that still stands today, reaching a speed of Mach 6.70, which is equivalent to around 7,274 km/h.
The X-15 program was a remarkable achievement in the history of aviation and paved the way for the development of future high-speed aircraft. Today, the legacy of the X-15 lives on in the form of the experimental aircraft and spacecraft being developed by organizations such as NASA and private companies like SpaceX.
In conclusion, the North American X-15 was the fastest manned aircraft ever built and operated. It set numerous world records for speed and altitude and was a key tool for scientific research and technological development. While the program was not without risks, its achievements continue to inspire the development of new high-speed aircraft and spacecraft today.