North American X-15: still holds the current world record for the fastest manned aircraft
Its maximum speed was mach 6.70 (about 7,200 km/h) which it attained on the 3rd of October 1967 thanks to its pilot William J. “Pete” Knight. To be stable at these super high velocities, it had to feature a big wedge tail, however the downside of this was at lower speeds the drag was extremely big from such a tail. Therefore a B-52 Stratofortress had to carry it up to an altitude of about 14,000 meters before dropping it at which it ignited its own engines. Just imagine sitting in a rocket measuring only 15 m in length and then being dropped, must have been a truly magnificent feeling! The X-15 was used at such extreme speeds so that it did not use traditional ways to steer (using drag over a fin) but instead it used rocket thrusters! This made it possible to reach altitudes higher than 100 kilometers, which was one of its world records. These are the three records that brought the X-15 rocket jet into the history books:
- It was the first operational space plane.
- It got to a height of more than 100 km.
- It flew more than six times the speed of sound (mach 6.70).
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