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"FASTEST MAN ALIVE"50th ANNIVERSARY



Submitted by Arthur - N1ORC

Michael Braukus
Headquarters, Washington November 19, 2003
(Phone: 202/358-1979)
Alan Brown
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.
(Phone: 661/276-2665)
RELEASE: 03-371
"FASTEST MAN ALIVE" RECALLS 50th ANNIVERSARY OF HISTORIC FLIGHT
On Nov. 20, 1953, shortly before the 50th anniversary of 
powered flight, A. Scott Crossfield piloted the Douglas D-558-
II Skyrocket research aircraft to Mach 2, twice the speed of 
sound, and became the "fastest man alive."
As an aeronautical research pilot at the National Advisory 
Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) High-Speed Flight Research 
Station (HSFRS), now NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, 
Crossfield was in the right place at the right time 50 years 
ago.
The U.S. Air Force and Navy were pushing the frontiers of 
flight, flying experimental research airplanes from Edwards 
Air Force Base, Calif. Higher, faster and farther was the 
mantra as speed and altitude records were being set and broken 
by a cadre of Air Force, Navy and NACA test pilots.
Although NACA was primarily interested in obtaining data from 
flight experiments, the Air Force and Navy had a different 
agenda. They maintained a friendly interservice rivalry over 
reaching the next major flight milestone. The Air Force had a 
major coup with the first supersonic flight by Capt. Charles 
E. "Chuck" Yeager in the Bell X-1 rocket plane just six years 
earlier. The military services had an intense interest in 
being the first to reach Mach 2.
"The Air Force was going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of 
the Wright brothers' first powered flight with another Mach 
number. It just occurred to us that it would be kind of 
interesting if we beat Yeager and the Air Force to Mach 2 in 
the Navy airplane," Crossfield recalled. "We were turned down 
by headquarters, because we didn't do that kind of thing at 
NACA. The next thing we knew, NACA director Hugh L. Dryden 
sent HSFRS chief Walter C. Williams authorization to try for 
one Mach 2 flight," he said. "It was a very friendly 
competition. The base was made up of fighter pilots from the 
top on down, and they're competitive," Crossfield said.
The Skyrocket was designed for a top speed of about Mach 1.5, 
but extensions on the four nozzles of its rocket engine had 
enabled Crossfield to reach Mach 1.96 in shallow dives in 
previous flights. "It was very close, but it was all the 
airplane had in it," he said.
The swept-wing research aircraft was carried aloft to the 
launch altitude of 32,000 feet by a Boeing P2B-S1 (the Navy 
designation of the B-29 Superfortress) "mother ship" early on 
Nov. 20, 1953. Dropping clear of the converted bomber, 
Crossfield ignited the Skyrocket's rocket engine. He reached 
72,000 feet before pushing over into a shallow dive. The Mach 
meter gradually crept upward. The needle finally stopped at 
Mach 2.005 (1,290 mph), just over twice the speed of sound.
Crossfield's speed record was short-lived. Less than a month 
later, on Dec. 12, 1953, Yeager flew the improved X-1A at Mach 
2.44 (1,612 mph). Crossfield's record flight was part of a 
carefully planned program of flight research with the 
Skyrocket. The program featured incremental increases in 
speed, while NACA instrumentation recorded flight data for 
each segment. Skyrocket No. 144, the craft Crossfield flew to 
Mach 2, is enshrined in the National Air and Space Museum in 
Washington.
As the Centennial of Flight approaches, Crossfield is still 
involved in experimental aviation. As Director of Flight 
Operations for the Wright Experience, he is training the 
pilots who will fly a replica of the original Wright Flyer 
during the ceremonial re-enactment of the first powered flight 
at Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, N.C. The replica will fly 
on Dec. 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright 
brothers' historic flight.
Photos of the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket and Scott Crossfield, 
including several taken the day of the first Mach 2 flight, 
are available for downloading on the Internet at:
www.dfrc.nasa.gov/Gallery/Photo/D-558-2/index.html.
Video footage, including historic flight footage of the 
Douglas Skyrocket and portions of a recent interview with 
Crossfield, are available by contacting the NASA Dryden public 
affairs office at: 661/276-3449. 

-end-
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