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Scott Crossfield - Portraits Scott Crossfield - Portraits

Photo Number: E-1455
Photo Date: 1954

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Scott Crossfield joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA--the predecessor of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA) at its High Speed Flight Research Station, Edwards, Calif., as a research pilot in June, 1950. During the next five years, he flew the X-1, X-4, X-5, XF-92A, and D-558-I and -II aircraft, accumulating 87 rocket flights in the X-1 and D-558-II aircraft, plus 12 flights in the latter aircraft employing only jet power.

He made aeronautical history on November 20, 1953, when he reached the aviation milestone of Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) or more than 1,320 miles per hour in the D-558-II Skyrocket. Taken aloft in the supersonic, swept-wing research aircraft by a Boeing P2B Superfortress "mother ship" (the Navy designation of the B-29), he dropped clear of the bomber at 32,000 feet and climbed to 72,000 feet before diving to 62,000 feet where he became the first pilot to fly more than twice the speed of sound. His flight was part of a carefully planned program of flight research with the Skyrocket that featured incremental increases in speed while NACA instrumentation recorded the flight data at each increment.

Following his five years at the Edwards unit (redesignated the NACA High Speed Flight Station in 1954), Crossfield left the NACA in 1955 to work for North American Aviation on the design and building of the X-15 rocket-powered airplane. There, he served as both pilot and design consultant for the revolutionary new aircraft.

Responsible for many of the operational and safety features incorporated into the X-15, Crossfield guided the rocket-powered airplane on its first free flight in 1959 and subsequently qualified the first two X-15s for flight before North American turned them over to NASA and the U.S. Air Force. He flew the two aircraft a total of 14 times (not counting 16 captive flights), reaching a maximum speed of Mach 2.97 (1,960 miles per hour) and a maximum altitude of 88,116 feet.

In 1960, Crossfield published his autobiography (written with Clay Blair, Jr.), Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot (New York: Arno Press, reprinted 1971). There he covered his life through the completion of the early X-15 flights.

Crossfield also served for five years as System Director responsible for systems test, reliability engineering, and quality assurance for North American Aviation on the Hound Dog missile, Paraglider, Apollo Command and Service Module, and the Saturn V second stage. Then from 1966 to 1967 he served as Technical Director, Research Engineering and Test at North American Aviation.

Crossfield served as an executive for Eastern Airlines from 1967 to 1973. Then from 1974 to 1975, he was Senior Vice President for Hawker Siddley Aviation, setting up its U.S. subsidiary for design, support, and marketing of the HS-146 transport in North America. From 1977 until his retirement in 1993, he served as technical consultant to the House Committee on Science and Technology, advising committee members on matters relating to civil aviation. Upon his retirement in 1983, NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin awarded him the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal for his contributions to aeronautics and aviation over a period spanning half a century.

Among his many other awards were the Collier Trophy for 1961 from the National Aeronautics Association, presented by President John F. Kennedy at the White House in 1962 and the International Clifford B. Harmon Trophy for 1960, presented by President Kennedy in the White House the year before. Crossfield has also been inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame (1983), the International Space Hall of Fame (1988), and the Aerospace Walk of Honor (1990). In 2002-2003, Crossfield served as technical adviser for the Countdown to Kitty Hawk project, which successfully built and flew an exact reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer, as well as several of the Wright brothers' earlier gliders. That project culminated with the airplane's presence at the national centennial of flight celebration at Kitty Hawk in December 2003.

Born in Berkeley, Calif., on October 2, 1921, Crossfield began his engineering training at the University of Washington in 1940. He interrupted his education to join the U.S. Navy in 1942. Commissioned an ensign in 1943 following flight training, he served as a fighter and gunnery instructor and maintenance officer before spending six months overseas without seeing combat duty. While in the Navy he flew the F6F and F4U fighters, as well as SNJ trainers, and a variety of other aircraft.

He resumed his engineering studies in 1946 and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Washington in 1949. He earned a masters in aeronautical science the following year from the same university and received an honorary doctor of science degree from the Florida Institute of Technology in 1982.


Flight Research Pilots; A. Scott Crossfield; Bell X-1#2; Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket; Northrop X-4; Bell X-5; Convair XF-92A; North American F-100; Douglas D-558-I Skystreak; National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; NACA High-Speed Flight Research Station; U.S. Navy; University of Washington

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