April 20, 2006

Pioneer test pilot Scott Crossfield dies in crash

By Deborah Zabarenko)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scott Crossfield, a pioneer test
pilot who was the first to fly at twice the speed of sound,
died when his single-engine plane crashed in Georgia, the Civil
Air Patrol reported on Thursday.

Crossfield, 84, was flying from Alabama to Virginia when
his plane disappeared from radar on Wednesday. The air patrol's
Georgia Wing located the wreckage of the plane and confirmed
the death on Thursday in a statement. NASA also noted the death
on its Web site, www.nasa.gov.

One of the titans of test flight, Crossfield made
aeronautical history on November 20, 1953, when he reached a
speed of Mach 2 -- twice the speed of sound, more than 1,320

an hour -- in a D-558-II Skyrocket aircraft.

"Scott Crossfield was a true pioneer whose daring X-15
flights helped pave the way for the space shuttle," NASA
Administrator Michael Griffin said in a statement.

"NASA remembers Scott not only as one of the greatest
pilots who ever flew, but as an expert aeronautical engineer,
aerodynamicist and designer who made significant contributions
to the design and development of the X-15 research aircraft,"
Griffin said.

The U.S. space agency chief added that Crossfield's work
contributed to the Apollo lunar program.

Between 1950 and 1955, Crossfield flew the X-1, X-4, X-5,
XF-92A, and D-558-I and -II aircraft.


He made these flights as a test pilot for the National
Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the forerunner of NASA,
where he was one of the so-called "right stuff" pilots based at
Edwards Air Force Base in California. Another legendary pilot
in the group, Chuck Yeager, was the first to fly faster than
the speed of sound in the X-1 on October 14, 1947.

Crossfield left NACA in 1955 to work at North American
Aviation on the X-15 rocket-powered airplane, where he was
responsible for many of the new aircraft's safety features.

He eventually flew the X-15 to an altitude of more than
88,000 feet, and a speed of 1,960 miles (3,154 km) an hour,
nearly three times the speed of sound.

More recently, Crossfield was a technical adviser for the
Countdown to Kitty Hawk project, which built and flew an exact
reproduction of the 1903 Wright flyer. The original Wright
flyer was flown by the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, North
Carolina, in 1903.

The reproduction of the Wright flyer was present at the
national centennial of flight celebration at Kitty Hawk in
December 2003.

Born in California in 1921, Crossfield attended the
University of Washington and served in the Navy during World
War Two before joining NACA.

The wreckage of Crossfield's plane was spotted by airborne
searchers in a heavily wooded area inaccessible by road in
Gilmer County, Georgia, said Capt. Paige Joyner of the Georgia
Civil Air Patrol, which helped find the wreckage. He was the
only one on board the six-seat aircraft.

As of his 81st birthday, he was still flying 200 hours a
year, Joyner said.

(Additional reporting by Jim Loney in Miami)