Albert Scott Crossfield

Last updated
Albert Scott Crossfield
USAF x15-29 072.jpg
Born(1921-10-02)October 2, 1921
DiedApril 19, 2006(2006-04-19) (aged 84)
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Alma mater University of Washington, B.S. 1949, M.S. 1950
Space career
USN-NACA-NAR, Test Pilot, Astronaut-Select
Previous occupation
Test pilot
Selection 1957 MISS Group
RetirementDecember 6, 1960

Albert Scott Crossfield (October 2, 1921 – April 19, 2006) was an American naval officer and test pilot. In 1953, he became the first pilot to fly at twice the speed of sound. He was the first of twelve pilots who flew the North American X-15, an experimental spaceplane jointly operated by the United States Air Force and NASA.

United States Navy Naval warfare branch of US Armed Forces

The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. It has the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 336,978 personnel on active duty and 101,583 in the Ready Reserve, the U.S. Navy is the third largest of the U.S. military service branches in terms of personnel. It has 290 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of June 2019, making it the third-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force and the United States Army.

Test pilot aviator who flies new and modified aircraft in specific maneuvers

A test pilot is an aircraft pilot with additional training to fly and evaluate experimental, newly produced and modified aircraft with specific manoeuvres known as flight test techniques.

The speed of sound is the distance travelled per unit time by a sound wave as it propagates through an elastic medium. At 20 °C (68 °F), the speed of sound in air is about 343 metres per second, or a kilometre in 2.9 s or a mile in 4.7 s. It depends strongly on temperature, but also varies by several metres per second, depending on which gases exist in the medium through which a soundwave is propagating.



Born October 2, 1921, in Berkeley, California, Crossfield grew up in California and Washington. He served with the U.S. Navy as a flight instructor and fighter pilot during World War II. During this time, he flew the F6F and F4U fighters, as well as SNJ trainers, and a variety of other aircraft. From 1946 to 1950, he worked in the University of Washington's Kirsten Wind Tunnel while earning his Bachelor of Science degree in 1949 and Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1950.

Berkeley, California City in California, United States

Berkeley is a city on the east shore of San Francisco Bay in northern Alameda County, California. It is named after the 18th-century Irish bishop and philosopher George Berkeley. It borders the cities of Oakland and Emeryville to the south and the city of Albany and the unincorporated community of Kensington to the north. Its eastern border with Contra Costa County generally follows the ridge of the Berkeley Hills. The 2010 census recorded a population of 112,580.

California U.S. state in the United States

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents across a total area of about 163,696 square miles (423,970 km2), California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second- and fifth-most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second-most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.

Washington (state) state of the United States of America

Washington, officially the State of Washington, is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Named for George Washington, the first U.S. president, the state was made out of the western part of the Washington Territory, which was ceded by the British Empire in 1846, in accordance with the Oregon Treaty in the settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute. The state, which is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, Oregon to the south, Idaho to the east, and the Canadian province of British Columbia to the north, was admitted to the Union as the 42nd state in 1889. Olympia is the state capital; the state's largest city is Seattle. Washington is often referred to as Washington State to distinguish it from the nation's capital, Washington, D.C..

Military career

In 1950, Crossfield joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics' (NACA) High-Speed Flight Station (later called the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, and now named the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center) at Edwards Air Force Base, California, as an aeronautical research pilot. [1]

National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics U.S. federal agency

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was a U.S. federal agency founded on March 3, 1915, to undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research. On October 1, 1958, the agency was dissolved, and its assets and personnel transferred to the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NACA was an initialism, i.e. it was pronounced as individual letters, rather than as a whole word.

NASA US government agency responsible for civilian space programs, and aeronautical and aerospace research

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.

Edwards Air Force Base United States Air Force installation in Southern California

Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) is a United States Air Force installation located in Kern County in southern California, about 22 miles (35 km) northeast of Lancaster, 15 miles (24 km) east of Rosamond and 5.5 miles (8.9 km) south of California City

Crossfield in the cockpit a Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket during November 1953 Scott Crossfield and D-558-2, November 20, 1953.jpg
Crossfield in the cockpit a Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket during November 1953

Crossfield demonstrated his flight test skills on his very first student solo. His 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 the 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. Satisfied, he recovered from the spin, landed (actually, did several landings), and fueled the airplane. He also realized his instructor had been holding the door during their practice spin entries and recoveries, and never mentioned this door quirk. In later years, Crossfield often 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.

Over the next five years, he 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. During one of his X-1 flights, the cockpit windows completely frosted and Crossfield was literally flying blind. Ever resourceful, he removed a loafer, took off his sock, and created a peep hole to reference his chase plane wingman all the way to landing. [2] On November 20, 1953, he became the first person to fly at twice the speed of sound as he piloted the Skyrocket to a speed of 1,291 mph (2,078 km/h, Mach 2.005). [3] The Skyrocket D-558-II surpassed its intended design speed by 25 percent on that day. With 99 flights in the rocket-powered X-1 and D-558-II, Crossfield had — by a wide margin — more experience with rocketplanes than any other pilot in the world by the time he left Edwards to join North American Aviation in 1955.

Experimental aircraft aircraft class designed to test or develop aircraft design and technology

An experimental aircraft is an aircraft that has not yet been fully proven in flight. Often, this implies that new aerospace technologies are being tested on the aircraft, though the label is more broad.

Bell X-1 Experimental rocket powered aircraft, first airplane to break the sound barrier in level flight

The Bell X-1,, is a rocket-engine–powered aircraft, designated originally as the XS-1, and was a joint National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics–U.S. Army Air Forces–U.S. Air Force supersonic research project built by Bell Aircraft. Conceived during 1944 and designed and built in 1945, it achieved a speed of nearly 1,000 miles per hour in 1948. A derivative of this same design, the Bell X-1A, having greater fuel capacity and hence longer rocket burning time, exceeded 1,600 miles per hour in 1954. The X-1, piloted by Chuck Yeager, was the first crewed airplane to exceed the speed of sound in level flight and was the first of the X-planes, a series of American experimental rocket planes designed for testing new technologies.

Bell X-5 Experimental aircraft to test variable sweep of wings

The Bell X-5 was the first aircraft capable of changing the sweep of its wings in flight. It was inspired by the untested wartime P.1101 design of the German Messerschmitt company. In contrast with the German design, which could only have its wing sweepback angle adjusted on the ground, the Bell engineers devised a system of electric motors to adjust the sweep in flight.

In September 1954, Crossfield was forced to make a deadstick landing in the North American F-100 Super Sabre he was evaluating at the High-Speed Flight Station (now the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center), a feat which 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 ("with great precision," as he later wryly joked). Crossfield was uninjured, and the F-100 was later repaired and returned to service. [4] Crossfield left NACA in 1955. [5]

A deadstick landing, also called a dead-stick landing, is a type of forced landing when an aircraft loses all of its propulsive power and is forced to land. The "stick" does not refer to the flight controls, which in most aircraft are either fully or partially functional without engine power, but to the traditional wooden propeller, which without power would just be a "dead stick". When a pilot makes an emergency landing of an aircraft that has some or all of its propulsive power still available, the procedure is known as a precautionary landing.

North American F-100 Super Sabre 1953 fighter aircraft family

The North American F-100 Super Sabre is an American supersonic jet fighter aircraft that served with the United States Air Force (USAF) from 1954 to 1971 and with the Air National Guard (ANG) until 1979. The first of the Century Series of USAF jet fighters, it was the first USAF fighter capable of supersonic speed in level flight. The F-100 was designed by North American Aviation as a higher performance follow-on to the F-86 Sabre air superiority fighter.

North American Aviation career

As chief engineering test pilot for North American, Crossfield played a major role in the design and development of the North American X-15 and its systems. Once it was ready to fly, it was his job to demonstrate its airworthiness at speeds ranging up to Mach 3 (2,290 mph). Because the X-15 and its systems were unproven, these tests were considered extremely hazardous. Crossfield flew 14 of the 199 total X-15 flight tests with most of these tests establishing and validating initial key parameters. Crossfield not only designed the X-15 from the beginning, but introduced many innovations, including putting engine controls of the rocket plane into the cockpit. Previously, all engine adjustments resulted from technicians making adjustments on the ground based upon results of flight profiles.

North American X-15 Rocket-powered aircraft operated by the US Air Force and NASA

The North American X-15 was a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft operated by the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft. The X-15 set speed and altitude records in the 1960s, reaching the edge of outer space and returning with valuable data used in aircraft and spacecraft design. The X-15's official world record for the highest speed ever recorded by a manned, powered aircraft, set in October 1967 when William J. Knight flew at Mach 6.70 at 102,100 feet (31,120 m), a speed of 4,520 miles per hour, has remained unbroken as of 2019.

It was during this time that Crossfield was part of the U.S. Air Force's Man In Space Soonest project.

On June 8, 1959, he completed the airplane's first flight, an unpowered glide from 37,550 feet. The flight was troubled as the flight controls had not been set up properly. As Crossfield attempted to land the unfueled X-15, it went into what Crossfield described as "a classic PIO" or pilot induced oscillation. He managed to set down the X-15 on the desert runway at the bottom of one of the severe oscillations saving himself and the airframe. [6] On September 17, 1959, he completed the first powered flight. Because of delays in the development of the X-15's mammoth 57,000 pounds force (254 kN) thrust XLR-99 engine, the early flights were completed with a pair of interim XLR-11 rocket engines.

Shortly after launch on his third flight, one of these engines exploded. Unable to jettison his propellants, Crossfield was forced to make an emergency landing during which the excessive load on the aircraft broke its back just behind the cockpit. He was uninjured and the airplane was repaired.

On June 8, 1960, he had another close call during ground tests with the XLR-99 engine. He was seated in the cockpit of the No. 3 X-15 when a malfunctioning valve caused a catastrophic explosion. Once again he was uninjured as Dr. Toby Freedman, NAA Medical Director, pried open the cockpit to save him and despite being subjected to a later calculated acceleration force of near 50 Gs (although Crossfield stated in the Discovery Channel's series Frontiers of Flight that he began to have debilitating issues with his night vision after the accident) and the airplane was completely rebuilt. On November 15 of the same year, he completed the X-15's first powered flight with the XLR-99 engine. Two flights later, on December 6, he brought North American's demonstration program to a successful conclusion as he completed his final flight in the X-15. Although it had been his hope to eventually pilot one of the craft into space, the USAF would not allow it, and gave strict orders which basically amounted to "stay in the sky, stay out of space."

Altogether, he completed 16 captive flights (mated to the B-52 launch aircraft), one glide flight and 13 powered flights in the X-15. The retirement of the X-15 (due to funding cutbacks) after its record-setting Mach 6.70 (4,520 mph) [7] [8] flight prompted pilot Pete Knight to remark that he would have pushed it to even faster speeds if he knew it was the last flight. In his remarks to a number of aviation groups, Crossfield cited the X-15 as one of few aircraft that caused grown men to cry upon its retirement.

He remained at North American as systems director of test and quality assurance in the company's Space and Information Systems Division where he oversaw quality, reliability engineering and systems test activities for such programs as the Apollo command and service modules and the Saturn II booster. In 1966, he became the division's technical director for research engineering and test.

Civilian career

In 1961, Crossfield became division director of test and quality assurance for NAA's Paraglider project. [9]

In 1967, Crossfield 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 1974–1975, he worked for Hawker Siddeley as a senior vice president supporting HS146 activities in the United States. In 1977, he 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. In 1986, this House Committee tasked Crossfield to be a member of the task group assigned to investigate the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

In a 2000 public lecture, Crossfield described how the X-15 aeronautical calculations and design required computing power that filled four 10'x12' rooms. He went on to say that these very same calculations could be performed today on a notebook computer. He also hinted that Burt Rutan and his Scaled Composite company were performing pioneering work for a private aircraft to take-off from an airport, fly into outer space, and return to that airport. In 2004, White Knight carried Space Ship One to its successful launch and winning of the Ansari X-Prize, the first attempt by a plane since the X-15 cancellation.

Later life

Crossfield at the launch of Space Ship One in October 2004 X 15 Test Pilot Scott Crossfield at the launch of Space Ship One. by D Ramey Logan.jpg
Crossfield at the launch of Space Ship One in October 2004

Crossfield was played by Scott Wilson in the 1983 film The Right Stuff .

Crossfield co-authored Always Another Dawn, a story of a rocket test pilot, with Clay Blair Jr, and authored "Onward and Upward" Research Airplanes, Act II.

In 1986 he created and funded the A. Scott Crossfield Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year Award presented annually under the stewardship of the Civil Air Patrol during the National Congress on Aerospace Education now called the National Conference on Aerospace Education (NCASE). After his death in 2006 and the shift of NCASE from an annual to biannual conference, Crossfields's daughter, Sally Crossfield Farley, moved the award to the National Aviation Hall of Fame and it is now presented during the Enshrinement Weekend each July in Dayton, Ohio.

In the 1991 Discovery Channel series Frontiers of Flight, Crossfield claimed he "...probably had more centrifuge time, pressure suit time and pressure chamber time and all of that than any man alive." [10]

From 2001 to 2003, Crossfield trained pilots Terry Queijo, Kevin Kochersberger, Chris Johnson and Ken Hyde for The Wright Experience, which prepared to fly a reproduction Wright Flyer on the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight on December 17, 1903. The training was successful, but the re-creation of the flight on December 17, 2003 was ultimately not successful due to low engine power and the flyer's rain-soaked fabric covering which added considerably to its takeoff weight. The Wright replica did fly successfully at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina after the Centennial jubilee but without media coverage.

When asked to name his favorite airplane, Crossfield replied, "the one I was flying at the time," because he thoroughly enjoyed them all and their unique personalities.


2006 Cessna 210A crash
DateWednesday, April 19, 2006
11:10 AM EST
Summary ATC error
Foul weather
Pilot error
Site Ludville, Georgia, United States
Aircraft type Cessna 210A
Aircraft nameCenturion
  • N6579X C/n
  • msn:21057579
Flight origin Prattville-Grouby Field
Prattville, Alabama, United States
Last stopover Maxwell Air Force Base
Montgomery, Alabama
Destination Manassas Regional Airport
Manassas, Virginia
Fatalities1 (all)

On April 19, 2006, a Cessna 210A piloted by Crossfield was reported missing while flying from Prattville, Alabama toward Manassas, Virginia. [11] 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 controllers lost radio and radar contact with Crossfield's plane.

The Gordon County Sheriff's department reported that debris from Crossfield's aircraft was found in three different locations within a quarter mile, [12] suggesting that the plane broke up while it was still in the air.

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 funeral ceremony was held at the Arlington National Cemetery on August 15, 2006.

On September 27, 2007, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a report stating the probable cause of his crash to be as follows: "The pilot's failure to obtain updated en route weather information, which resulted in his continued instrument flight into a widespread area of severe convective activity, and the air traffic controller's failure to provide adverse weather avoidance assistance, as required by Federal Aviation Administration directives, both of which led to the airplane's encounter with a severe thunderstorm and subsequent loss of control." [13] [14]


Crossfield received the Lawrence Sperry Award (1954), Octave Chanute Award (1954), Iven C. Kincheloe Award (1960), American Rocket Society (ARS) Astronautics Award (1960), Harmon International Trophy (1961 at the White House by President John F. Kennedy), Collier Trophy (1961 at the White House by President Kennedy in 1962), John J. Montgomery Award (1962), NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal (1993), and was named Honorary Fellow by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) (1999). Crossfield is the only American to be honored in the White House for his contributions in advancing aeronautical science - or any other discipline - more than once, let alone two consecutive years. He has been inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame (1965) [15] , National Aviation Hall of Fame (1983), the International Space Hall of Fame (1988), the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame (1998), Aerospace Walk of Honor (1990), [16] The Glen A. Gilbert Memorial Award (1990) and the National Air and Space Museum Trophy (2000). Posthumously, he has been awarded the Hoyt S. Vandenberg Award, the Paul Tissandier Diploma, the Victor A. Prather Award, and the Donald D. Engen Award.[ citation needed ]

An elementary school was named in his honor near his last residence, in Herndon, Virginia (a community just northeast of Dulles International Airport). A ribbon named after him is one of the Aerospace Education Awards in the Civil Air Patrol Senior Members program. The terminal at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport (CLS) in Washington state bears his name.[ citation needed ]

He was also most proud of his A. Scott Crossfield Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year Award which is awarded annually at what is known as the "Oscar Night" in aviation, the Annual Enshrinement Ceremony Weekend at the National Aviation Hall of Fame held each year at the end of July in Dayton, Ohio.[ citation needed ]

Crossfield received an honorary doctor of science degree from the Florida Institute of Technology in 1982.[ citation needed ]


While he was celebrated as a daring test pilot, he claimed that his actual profession was an engineer. "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." [17]


  1. Until 1949, the base was called Muroc Field, reverse spelling of the wealthy California Corum family who donated the land to the Army Air Corps.
  2. Merlin, Peter (April 2006). "A test pilot's final dawn". The X-Hunters. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  3. Hallion, Richard P. "The NACA, NASA, and the Supersonic-Hypersonic Frontier" (PDF). NASA. NASA Technical Reports Server. Retrieved 7 September 2011.
  4. "NASA Dryden Photo Collection: F-100A with nose through hangar wall". Archived from the original on 2010-06-12. Retrieved 2010-12-09.
  5. "Former Pilots: A. Scott Crossfield". NASA. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  7. Evans, Michelle (2013). "The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings Into Space-Flight Log" (PDF). Mach 25 Media. p. 51.
  8. Jenkins, Dennis R. (June 2000). "Hypersonics Before the Shuttle: a Concise History of the X-15 Research Airplane" (PDF). Monographs in Aerospace History (18). NASA. p. 121. Appendix 9, X-15 Program Flight Log.
  9. Page 237, Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1967.
  11. "Famed test pilot missing in flight." Cable News Network. April 20, 2006.
  12. AVweb article: Scott Crossfield Final Flight accessed 4 Oct 2004
  14. NTSB report CHI06MA115 accessed 2 Mar 2012
  15. Sprekelmeyer, Linda, editor. These We Honor: The International Aerospace Hall of Fame. Donning Co. Publishers, 2006. ISBN   978-1-57864-397-4
  16. Kaplan, Tracey (September 23, 1990). "Ground-Level Monuments Honor Heroes of the Air". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. p. 840 via
  17. Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Famed aviator Scott Crossfield dies in plane crash accessed 4 Oct 2007

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