Twice the Speed of Sound

Albert Scott Crossfield

Albert Scott Crossfield

On November 20, 1953, Albert Scott Crossfield became the first person to fly at twice the speed of sound as he piloted the Douglass D-588-ii Skyrocket to a speed of 2,078 km/h, Mach 2.005.

Albert Scott Crossfield was born on October 2, 1921 in California and grew up in California and Washington. He served with the U.S. Navy as a flight instructor and fighter pilot during World War II and worked in the University of Washington‘s Kirsten Wind Tunnel while earning his Bachelor of Science degree. He received his Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineerin in 1950.

 

Crossfield joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA) High-Speed Flight Station (later called the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in 1950 as an aeronautical research pilot. It is believed that the pilot was already able to demonstrate his flight skills as a student:Back then, hs instructor was not available on the designated early morning, so Crossfield, on his own, took off and went through maneuvers he had practiced with his instructor, including spin entry and spin recovery. During this morning Crossfield was as he later reported highly influenced by the instructor’s door. During his first spin, Crossfield experienced vibrations, banging, and noise in the aircraft that he had never encountered with his instructor. He recovered, climbed to a higher altitude, and repeated his spin entry and spin recovery, getting the same vibration, banging and noise. On his third spin entry, at yet an even higher altitude, he looked over his shoulder as he was spinning and observed the instructor’s door disengaged and flapping in the spin. He reached back, pulled the door closed, and discovered all the vibrations, banging and noise stopped. The pilot realized that his instructor had been holding the door during their practice spin entries and recoveries, and never mentioned this door quirk and later he cited his curiosity about this solo spin anomaly and his desire to analyze what was going on and why it happened, as the start of his test pilot career.

Through the years, Crossfield flew nearly all of the experimental aircraft under test at Edwards, including the X-1, XF-92, X-4, X-5, Douglas D-558-I Skystreak and the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket. He becme the first person to fly at twice the speed of sound as he piloted the Skyrocket to a speed of 2,078 km/h, Mach 2.005. The Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket was a rocket and jet-powered supersonic research aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company for the United States Navy. On that day, the Skyrocket D-558-II surpassed its intended design speed by 25 percent. As Crossfield had more experience with rocketplanes than any other pilot in the world (with 99 flights) by the time he left Edwards to join North American Aviation in 1955. In September 1954, Crossfield was forced to make a dead stick landing in the North American F-100 Super Sabre he was evaluating at Dryden – now the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center. Back then North American’s own test pilots doubted could be done, as the F-100 had a high landing speed. Crossfield made a perfect approach and touchdown, but was unable to bring the unpowered aircraft to a halt in a safe distance, and was forced to use the wall of the NACA hangar as a makeshift brake after narrowly missing several parked experimental aircraft. Crossfield was uninjured, and the F-100 was later repaired and returned to service.

In the 1960s, Albert Crossfield became division director of test and quality assurance for NAA’s Paraglider project and also joined Eastern Air Lines where he served as a division vice president for research and development and, subsequently, as a staff vice president working with U.S. military and civilian agencies on air traffic control technologies. In the 1970s, Crossfield joined the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology where he served, until his retirement in 1993, as a technical adviser on all aspects of civil aviation research and development and became one of the nation’s leading advocates for a reinvigorated research airplane program.

On April 19, 2006, Crossfield was returning from Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama, where he had given a speech to a class of young Air Force officers attending the Air and Space Basic Course. His Cessna 210A piloted was reported missing while flying from Prattville, Alabama toward Manassas, Virginia. On April 20, authorities confirmed his body was found in the wreckage of his plane in a remote area of Ludville, Georgia. There were severe thunderstorms in the area when air traffic monitors lost radio and radar contact with Crossfield’s plane.

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