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Sat, Apr 22, 2006

Scott Crossfield's Planes

If any plane is linked forever to the name Scott Crossfield, it's the X-15. Many test pilots fly experimental planes, but only a dozen flew this near-space vehicle, and of them, Crossfield was the first.

As a boy he flew simple general aviation planes in the 1930s, and graduated to military trainers when accepted as a Naval Air Cadet in 1942. During his naval service, while on active duty, he's known to have flown and instructed in Grumman F6F Hellcats, Vought F4U Corsairs, and the North American SNJ trainer.

After the war, while attending the University of Washington he flew the Goodyear FG-1D (below, right), an improved, more powerful Corsair, with the Navy Reserve.

He flew many pure research planes while at NACA High Speed Flight Center, including the Bell X-1 (XS-1 and X-1E), Northrop X-4, Bell X-5, Convair XF-92A, Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak, and D-558-2 Skyrocket. He also flew the XF-84, the F-100, and several other aircraft.

He managed to set the XF-107 on fire by taxiing it (idle thrust was so high, that pilots had to ride the brakes. After a rebuild, NASA gave up on taxiing and had the plane towed to the runway and back every flight).

At the end of his five years with NACA he was the most experienced rocket pilot in America and probably the world, with 87 rocket flights and 12 flights in the rocket-jet hybrid D-558-2 on turbojet power alone.

In his first five years at North American Aviation, he helped develop, and then flew, the X-15. At the same time he bought and flew a V-tailed Beechcraft Bonanza to commute from LA to Edwards Air Force Base in the Antelope Valley.

He completed 16 captive, one glide and 13 powered flights in the X-15, and had two narrow escapes, one from an inflight fire and one from an explosion during a ground test -- both mishaps caused substantial damage to the test aircraft.

After the 1960 transfer of the X-15s from NAA to NASA, North American increasingly used him as an engineer, engineering manager, and executive. He once made, on behalf of North American, a serious proposal for an orbital version of the X-15. During this period he did not fly as much.

Crossfield resumed flying general aviation in the 1980s, buying a 1961 Cessna 210 with which he traveled around the country. He was an instrument-rated commercial pilot.

In 2003 he learned to fly the most primitive craft to grace his logbook, Ken Hyde and the Wright Experience's 1902 Wright Glider replica. He used that experience to teach two airline pilots to fly the powered 1903 Flyer replica that Hyde's group had constructed.

On April 19, 2006, he was found dead at the controls of his beloved 210 in the Georgia mountains. Controllers lost his radar return the previous night during extreme weather. The accident is under investigation.

FMI: www.nasa.gov, www.ntsb.gov

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