The X-15 Astronauts

By Cliff Lethbridge

From the earliest days of the U.S. space program, military pilots who have flown in space have been awarded astronaut wings upon completion of their flight in space. Eligible pilots have received the astronaut wings from the branch of service they are affiliated with. However, astronaut wings were not restricted to rocket flights.

Military pilots who have been able to fly their aircraft to altitudes greater than 50 miles have also been eligible to receive astronaut wings. To date, this rare feat has only been accomplished during the X-15 research program. Military pilots who flew their X-15 aircraft higher than 50 miles were awarded astronaut wings upon the completion of their flights.

It should be noted that both military and civilian pilots participated in the X-15 program, although only the military pilots who flew higher than 50 miles were actually granted astronaut wings initially.

The civilian X-15 pilots who flew higher than 50 miles were not initially recognized as astronauts and did not receive astronaut wings upon completion of their flights. However, civilian NASA X-15 pilots who flew higher than 50 miles did ultimately receive this recognition. NASA X-15 pilots Bill Dana, Joe Walker and John B. McKay (posthumously) received their astronaut wings during a ceremony at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California in July, 2005.

The following individuals flew higher than 50 miles in X-15 aircraft, and are listed by name, affiliation and the flight sequence numbers in the X-15 program during which each pilot achieved an altitude of greater than 50 miles:

Adams, Michael J. (Air Force, X-15 Flight191)

Dana, William H. (NASA, X-15 Flight174,197)

Engle, Joe H. (Air Force, X-15 Flight138,143,153)

Knight, William J. (Air Force, X-15 Flight190)

McKay, John B. (NASA, X-15 Flight150)

Rushworth, Robert A. (Air Force, X-15 Flight 87)

Walker, Joseph A. (NASA, X-15 Flight 77, 90, 91)

White, Robert A. (Air Force, X-15 Flight 62)

Note: Joe H. Engle was drafted as a Pilot Astronaut in NASA Group 5, and eventually flew in space aboard the Space Shuttle. Michael J. Adams was killed on November 15, 1967 during the only fatal accident of the X-15 program.