As a youngster in Abilene, Kansas, a burning desire for all things airborne seized Joe Engle. When he wasn’t building model airplanes or sketching them, he would daydream about flying. Indeed, some of his best “flights of fancy” took place as he quietly gazed upward in the old Methodist Church he attended with his family. But what looked like youthful piety was actually an imaginary dogfight, taking place with dramatic dives, loops and twists between the crossbeams of the sprawling building.
- In 1963 became one of the test pilots for the X-15 program.
- Earned astronaut wings as X-15 pilot, becoming America’s youngest astronaut at age 32.
- In 1966, formally selected by NASA for the fifth group of astronaut candidates.
- Commanded the second flight of the space shuttle and was the first person to ever manually fly the spacecraft from its re-entry speed of Mach 25 to a landing.
- Commanded the five-man crew of STS-511, which performed the first successful in-orbit rendezvous with, and repair of, a SYSCOM IV-3 satellite.
Joe H. Engle, one of the most experienced aviators ever to become an astronaut, was a key man in the development and employment of America’s Space Shuttle. Born August 26th, 1932 in Abilene, Kansas, Engle attended the University of Kansas and graduated in 1955 with a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering. Commissioned through Air Force ROTC, he earned his pilot’s wings in 1958. He flew F-100 Super Sabres with the 474th Fighter Day Squadron and the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron, George Air Force Base, California. After graduating from the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School in 1961 and the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School in 1962, Engle became a test pilot in the rocket-powered X-15 aircraft research program at Edwards AFB, California. Over the next three years, he flew it 16 times and on three flights, he reached altitudes of more that 50 miles and qualified for astronaut wings – the nation’s youngest astronaut at age 32. Assigned to NASA in 1966, Engle was the first and only astronaut recruit to have previously flown into space. First assigned to the Apollo program, he served on the support crew for Apollo 10 and then became the backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 14. Later assigned to the Space Shuttle program, Engle was one of four astronauts named to conduct approach and landing tests on this revolutionary vehicle. He returned to space on 12 November 1981 in command of STS-2 in the Columbia. It was a highly significant mission – he “manually” flew Columbia from space through atmosphere reentry to explore the shuttle’s aerodynamic characteristics. Following this flight, he served as the Deputy Associate Administrator for manned Space Flight at NASA Headquarters. He returned to flight status at Johnson Space Center in 1983, and on 27 August 1985, Engle again flew as commander of an action-packed mission in the Discovery. During STS-511, the crew not only captured, repaired, and redeployed the SYNCOM IV-3 satellite, but also deployed three new communications satellites. Engle’s varied NASA experience was again valuable in the Challenger accident investigation and subsequent Shuttle Improvement Program. Engle retired from NASA and the Air Force in November 1986 and was simultaneously promoted to brigadier general in the Kansas Air National Guard. He lives in Houston, Texas, and divides his time between family, consulting jobs, and hunting.
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