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D-558-II Aircraft  Photo Gallery Contact Sheet

D-558-II Aircraft Photo Gallery Contact Sheet

Photo Date: September 13, 2006
Formats: Low Resolution Image Contact Sheet (63758 KBytes)
High Resolution Image Contact Sheet (63776 KBytes)
D-558-II Aircraft

The Douglas D-558-2 "Skyrockets" were among the early transonic research airplanes like the X-1, X-4, X-5, and X-92A. Three of the single-seat, swept-wing aircraft flew from 1948 to 1956 in a joint program involving the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), with its flight research done at the NACA's Muroc Flight Test Unit in Calif., redesignated in 1949 the High-Speed Flight Research Station (HSFRS). Also partners in the flight research were the Navy-Marine Corps and the Douglas Aircraft Co. The HSFRS became the High-Speed Flight Station in 1954 and is now known as the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. The Skyrocket made aviation history when it became the first airplane to fly twice the speed of sound.

The 2 in the aircraft's designation referred to the fact that the Skyrocket was the phase-two version of what had originally been conceived as a three-phase program, with the phase-one aircraft having straight wings. The third phase, which never came to fruition, would have involved constructing a mock-up of a combat-type aircraft embodying the results from the testing of the phase one and two aircraft.

Douglas pilot John F. Martin made the first flight at Muroc Army Airfield (later renamed Edwards Air Force Base) in Calif. on February 4, 1948. The goals of the program were to investigate the characteristics of swept-wing aircraft at transonic and supersonic speeds with particular attention to pitch-up (uncommanded rotation of the nose of the airplane upwards)--a problem prevalent in high-speed service aircraft of that era, particularly at low speeds during take-off and landing and in tight turns.

The three aircraft gathered a great deal of data about pitch-up and the coupling of lateral (yaw) and longitudinal (pitch) motions; wing and tail loads, lift, drag, and buffeting characteristics of swept-wing aircraft at transonic and supersonic speeds; and the effects of the rocket exhaust plume on lateral dynamic stability throughout the speed range. (Plume effects were a new experience for aircraft.) The number three aircraft also gathered information about the effects of external stores (bomb shapes, drop tanks) upon the aircraft's behavior in the transonic region (roughly 0.7 to 1.3 times the speed of sound). In correlation with data from other early transonic research aircraft such as the XF-92A, this information contributed to solutions to the pitch-up problem in swept-wing aircraft.

The three airplanes flew a total of 313 times--123 by the number one aircraft (Bureau No. 37973--NACA 143), 103 by the second Skyrocket (Bureau No. 37974--NACA 144), and 87 by airplane number three (Bureau No. 37975--NACA 145). Skyrocket 143 flew all but one of its missions as part of the Douglas contractor program to test the airplane's performance.

NACA aircraft 143 was initially powered by a Westinghouse J-34-40 turbojet engine configured only for ground take-offs, but in 1954-55 the contractor modified it to an all-rocket air-launch capability featuring an LR8-RM-6, 4-chamber Reaction Motors engine rated at 6,000 pounds of thrust at sea level (the Navy designation for the Air Force's LR-11 used in the X-1). In this configuration, NACA research pilot John McKay flew the airplane only once for familiarization on September 17, 1956. The 123 flights of NACA 143 served to validate wind-tunnel predictions of the airplane's performance, except for the fact that the airplane experienced less drag above Mach 0.85 than the wind tunnels had indicated.

NACA 144 also began its flight program with a turbojet powerplant. NACA pilots Robert A. Champine and John H. Griffith flew 21 times in this configuration to test airspeed calibrations and to research longitudinal and lateral stability and control. In the process, during August of 1949 they encountered pitch-up problems, which NACA engineers recognized as serious because they could produce a limiting and dangerous restriction on flight performance. Hence, they determined to make a complete investigation of the problem.

Keywords: D-558-2; Douglas; D-558-II; Skyrocket; NACA High-Speed Flight Station; High-Speed Flight Research Station; Dryden Flight Research Center; John F. Martin; Westinghouse J-34-40; turbojet engine; LR8-RM-6; 4-chamber Reaction Motors engine; Robert A. Champine; John H. Griffith; William B. Bridgeman; Navy P2B-1S; A. Scott Crossfield; Lt. Col. Marion Carl; Walter C. Williams; Hugh L. Dryden; Herman O. Ankenbruck; Joseph A. Walker; John B. McKay; Walter Jones; Eugene F. May; Stanley Butchart; Edwards Air Force Base; National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.

Last Modified: October 11, 2006
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