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X-15A-2 and HL-10 parked on NASA ramp X-15A-2 and HL-10 parked on NASA ramp

Photo Number: ECN-1288

Photo Date: May 27, 1966

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The HL-10 is shown next to the X-15A-2 in 1966. Both aircraft later went on to set records. On October 3, 1967, the X-15A-2 reached a speed of Mach 6.7, which was the highest speed achieved by a piloted aircraft until the Space Shuttles far exceeded that speed in 1981 and afterwards. The HL-10 later became the fastest piloted lifting body when it flew at a speed of Mach 1.86 on February 18, 1970.


The HL-10 was one of five heavyweight lifting-body designs flown at NASA's Flight Research Center (FRC--later Dryden Flight Research Center), Edwards, California, from July 1966 to November 1975 to study and validate the concept of safely maneuvering and landing a low lift-over-drag vehicle designed for reentry from space.

Northrop Corporation built the HL-10 and M2-F2, the first two of the fleet of "heavy" lifting bodies flown by the NASA Flight Research Center. The contract for construction of the HL-10 and the M2-F2 was $1.8 million. "HL" stands for horizontal landing, and "10" refers to the tenth design studied by engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.

After delivery to NASA in January 1966, the HL-10 made its first flight on Dec. 22, 1966, with research pilot Bruce Peterson in the cockpit. Although an XLR-11 rocket engine was installed in the vehicle, the first 11 drop flights from the B-52 launch aircraft were powerless glide flights to assess handling qualities, stability, and control. In the end, the HL-10 was judged to be the best handling of the three original heavy-weight lifting bodies (M2-F2/F3, HL-10, X-24A).

The HL-10 was flown 37 times during the lifting body research program and logged the highest altitude and fastest speed in the Lifting Body program. On Feb. 18, 1970, Air Force test pilot Peter Hoag piloted the HL-10 to Mach 1.86 (1,228 mph). Nine days later, NASA pilot Bill Dana flew the vehicle to 90,030 feet, which became the highest altitude reached in the program.

Some new and different lessons were learned through the successful flight testing of the HL-10. These lessons, when combined with information from it's sister ship, the M2-F2/F3, provided an excellent starting point for designers of future entry vehicles, including the Space Shuttle.

The X-15 was a rocket-powered aircraft roughly 50 feet long with a wingspan of 22 feet in its original configuration. The no. 2 aircraft was later modified to become the X-15A-2.

First flown in 1959, the three X-15 aircraft made a total of 199 flights. Flight maximums of 354,200 feet in altitude and a speed of 4,520 miles per hour were obtained. The final flight occurred on Oct. 24, 1968. The X-15 was manufactured by North American Aviation (NAA), now a division of Boeing after that firm acquired the Rockwell International Corporation into which NAA had evolved.

It was a missile-shaped vehicle with an unusual wedge-shaped vertical tail, thin stubby wings, and unique side fairings that extended along the side of the fuselage. The X-15 weighed about 12,295 pounds empty and approximately 31,275 pounds at launch. The rocket engine, the XLR-99, was pilot-controlled and was capable of developing 57,000 pound of rated thrust and about 60,000 pounds of actual thrust. It was manufactured by the Reaction Motors Division of Thiokol Chemical Corp. Before that engine was installed, the aircraft was powered by two XLR-11 rocket engines.

The X-15 research aircraft was developed to provide in-flight information and data on aerodynamics, structures, flight controls, and the physiological aspects of high-speed, high-altitude flight. A follow on program used the aircraft as a testbed to carry various scientific experiments beyond the Earth's atmosphere on a repeated basis.

For flight in the dense air of the lower atmosphere, the X-15 used conventional aerodynamic controls such as vertical stabilizers to control yaw and horizontal stabilizers to control pitch when moving in synchronization, or roll when moved differentially.

For flight in the thin air outside of the appreciable Earth's atmosphere, the X-15 used a reaction control system. Eight hydrogen-peroxide thrust rockets located on the nose of the aircraft provided pitch and yaw control. Four of them on the wings (two on each wing) furnished roll control.

Because the X-15 consumed a large amount of fuel, it was air launched from a B-52 aircraft at 45,000 feet and a speed of about 500 miles per hour. Depending on the mission, the rocket engine provided thrust for the first 80 to 120 seconds of flight. The remainder of the normal 10- to 11-minute flight was without power and ended with a 200-mile-per-hour glide landing.

Generally, one of two types of X-15 flight profiles was used--a high-altitude flight plan that called for the pilot to maintain a steep rate of climb, or a speed profile that called for the pilot to push over and maintain a level altitude.

NASA Photo by: NASA photo

Keywords: HL-10; Lifting Body; low lift-over-drag; reentry; Northrop; Bruce Peterson; B-52; Langley Research Center; NASA; Flight Research Center; M2-F2; M2-F3; Northrop; Bill Dana; Peter Hoag; X-15; North American Aviation; Reaction Motors Division of Thiokol Chemical Corp.; reaction controls; aerodynamic controls; B-52; hydrogen peroxide; X-15A-2; Space Shuttle

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