Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Fastest Man

The Bell X-2 rocket plane was built to explore the flight regime beyond Mach 3. Dropped from a Boeing B-50 mother plane, it would fly higher and faster than humans had dared before. Early tests indicated that aircraft at Mach 3 would encounter severe aerodynamic heating and severe stability problems. On September 7, 1956 test pilot Ivan Kincheloe (standing) became the first pilot to exceed 100,000 feet, flying the X-2 to an altitude of 126,200 feet. The saga of Icarus continues.

50 years ago September 27, 1956 Milburn "Mel" Apt (seated) flew to Mach 3.2, the first man to exceed three times the speed of sound. Having been instructed not to attempt any rapid control movements at high speed, Mel flew a nearly perfect flight profile. Unfortunately, shortly after reaching top speed the X-2 went out of control, leading to a flat spin. Both aircraft and pilot were lost. Apt's widow was informed that day.

Until the arrival of the X-15, no one would fly so high or so fast.


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