Scott Crossfield In Memoriam


We'd like to take a moment to honor the memory of Scott Crossfield. Crossfield was a NACA test pilot from 1950 to 1955 and continued flying research aircraft until 1960 as chief engineering test pilot for North American Aviation. It was in these roles that Crossfield flew many of the most groundbreaking test flights of that exciting decade. Among the long list of historic aircraft he flew were the X-1, XF-92, X-4, X-5, D-558-1, D-558-2, and X-15.

Perhaps Crossfield's most significant contribution to aerospace history came on 20 November 1953 when he became the first person to fly Mach 2 aboard the D-558-2 Skyrocket. Thanks to his 99 flights aboard the X-1 and D-558-2, Crossfield was considered to be America's most experienced test pilot of rocket-powered research aircraft. This experience would serve him well in his next career as the first pilot to fly the new X-15. This testing may have been the most dangerous Crossfield was ever a part of given the unproven nature of the radically advanced design.

Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the D-558-2 shortly after reaching Mach 2
Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the D-558-2 shortly after reaching Mach 2

Crossfield ultimately completed thirteen powered flights, one gliding flight, sixteen captive carries, fourteen aborts, and numerous ground tests aboard the X-15. His first brush with disaster came on the vehicle's third flight when one of the rocket engines exploded shortly after launch. Crossfield was unable to jettison the engine propellants and was forced to attempt an emergency landing at an unacceptably high weight. The excess load caused the aircraft to break just behind the cockpit, but Crossfield was unharmed and the X-15 was later repaired. Another close call came during a ground test when an ammonia tank exploded while testing the vehicle's XLR-99 rocket engine. Crossfield was seated in the cockpit when the X-15 exploded and a massive fire erupted around him. Luckily, Crossfield again escaped unharmed and this X-15 was also resurrected to fly again.

Following his flight testing experiences, Scott oversaw development and testing of components for the Apollo lunar missions, served as a Vice President at Eastern Airlines and Hawker-Siddeley, and was a technical adviser to the US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology. Crossfield also received countless awards and honors for his numerous contributions to aerospace. Though he was most often honored as a test pilot, Crossfield was most proud of his achievements in engineering. He was once quoted as saying, "I am an aeronautical engineer, an aerodynamicist and a designer. My flying was only primarily because I felt that it was essential to designing and building better airplanes for pilots to fly."

Unfortunately, Scott Crossfield was tragically killed on 19 April 2006 when his Cessna 210 crashed in Georgia. Crossfield was returning from a speaking engagement in Alabama to his home in Virginia when he flew into bad weather and lost contact with air traffic controllers. He was found in the wreckage of his aircraft the next day. Scott Crossfield accomplished many historic milestones in his 84 years, and his loss will be felt by all of us in the aerospace field.
- answer by Joe Yoon, 23 April 2006


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