Crossfield, Albert Scott
Record Setter/Test PilotEnshrined 1983 1921-2006
Crossfield is the only pilot, research or otherwise, who has ever worn out a pressure suit. Scotty flew at dangerously high altitudes so often that after three and a half years the suit just fell apart.
- Became a research test pilot at NACA’s High Speed Flight Research Station at Edwards Air Force Base.
- Flew the X-1, X-4, and X-5 aircraft and also made the first flights to produce zero gravity effects.
- Played a major role in the design and development of the X-15 and was the first person to make its test flight.
- Scott became the first person to exceed Mach 2 and to surpass Mach 3 and survive!
- Initiated the development of the full-pressurized suit, later becoming the basis for the space suit.
- As director of Test and Quality Assurance he was involved in 13 major space launches.
Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, A. Scott Crossfield enlisted in the Navy. After taking his primary flight training near Seattle, he completed his training at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. In 1943, after earning his commission as an ensign and designator as a naval aviator, Crossfield served as a flight and gunnery instructor and was in the air constantly, training pilots for the global war.
After attending a dive bomber school, he joined Navy Air Group 51 and became its Engineering Officer. The group, assigned to the carrier Langley in Hawaii, were training with the Hellcat fighters in preparation for the invasion of Japan. But when the atomic bomb abruptly ended the war, Crossfield separated from the Navy after four years of service. Returning to his studies at the University of Washington, he obtained a job in the school’s wind tunnel. As its chief operator he soon was busy testing aircraft such as the Goblin and studying engine locations and swept back wings for bombers. By the time he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering, he was certain that he wanted to become a research pilot. Soon after joining the staff of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics’ High Speed Flight Research Station at Edwards Air Force Base. With the outbreak of the Korean War, the entire Edwards test program was in his hands.
Undaunted by his new responsibility, he began by flying the jet-powered Douglas Skystreak research plane. When he made his first flight in the Northrop Bantam Skylancer, he tried to loop it. Though its engines flamed out at the top, he made a safe dead-stick landing. Three weeks later, he flew for the first time in the Douglas Skyrocket research plane, when it was dropped from a B-29 mother plane at 35,000 feet. Though its engines suddenly cut out and its windshield iced over, two accompanying chase planes helped Crossfield to bring it down safely.
In 1951, Crossfield made his first flight in the X-1 rocket plane, carried aloft by a B-29 to 30,000 feet, it unexpectedly flipped on its back when it was released. Skillfully righting it, Crossfield fired all four rockets and zoomed to over 41,000 feet. But then the windshield iced over and Crossfield was unable to see anything. In desperation, he removed one of his shoes and used his sock to rub a hole through the ice large enough to allow him to see adequately for a safe landing. That quick thinking earned Crossfield a special spot in the history of Edwards.
Meanwhile, he test flew the variable swept-wing Bell X-5, and discovered that it buffeted dangerously at low speeds. He also demonstrated the spin recovery techniques required with a full sixty degree sweep back. In the months that follow Crossfield flew the first aerodynamic parabolas in an F-84. These were the first systemized techniques for producing pilot weightlessness. He also tested the experimental Delta Wing. In the first flight, its brakes failed on landing and he ground looped it. Later, after making the last test flight in the plane, its nose wheel collapsed on landing and it ended up on its nose. Fortunately, the data that he obtained paved the way for the more successful Delta Dart.
On November 20th, 1953, Crossfield was dropped in the second Skyrocket from its B-29. Firing its rocket engines, he made a long climb. Then he placed it in a shallow dive until its speed reached 1,330 miles per hour! That act made Crossfield the first person to fly faster than twice the speed of sound, and an overnight celebrity. Testing the Super Sabre proved to be equally exciting, for when a fire warning light suddenly flashed “on,” Crossfield had to make an emergency landing. But the brakes failed and the plane crashed into the wall of the hangar. While at Edwards Crossfield not only made 100 rocket-powered aircraft flights, but he also initiated the development of the first full pressure flying suit. To assist in its perfection, a full size mold was made of his body, later the suit turned into the prototype for military flying suits, as well as for NASA’s manned space program.
Not long after North American Aviation received a contract to build three X-15 research planes, Crossfield became determined to have a part in their design, construction and testing. In joining the company as a design specialist, he was soon involved in decisions on its operating controls and full pressure suit system.
The X-15 resembled an advanced fighter, with stubby wings and a needle nosed fuselage covered with a temperature-resistant alloy. It was meant to be launched from under the wing of a B-52. Fortunately, the aeromedical and safety data that Crossfield used in designing the cockpit, and the ground and flight test techniques that he developed later become baselines for military aircraft and the manned space programs. Meanwhile, Crossfield became a Chief Engineering Test Pilot at North American. He not only directed its corporate air transport group, but also the test pilots flying experimental aircraft such as the B-70 Valkyrie bomber, and production Sabre and Super Sabre interceptors and Sabreliner transports.
When the X-15 finally rolled out at North American Aviation, U.S. Vice-President Nixon proclaimed that it “recaptured the U.S. lead in space.” By March 1959, it was shackled under the wing of its mother plane and Crossfield was ready to be taken aloft. Once airborne, trouble appeared when the X-15’s windshield iced over and one of its auxiliary power units overheated, causing smoke to pour into the cockpit and forcing an emergency landing. Finally, in June 1959, the X-15 was successfully dropped from the B-52 at 38,000 feet, and Crossfield entered into a steep descending turn, then flared for a landing. Suddenly the X-15 began porpoising, nose up, nose down. Skillfully, Crossfield brought the plane down and it skidded a mile before coming to a halt. His initial glide in the first X-15 had been a success.
Though there are continuing difficulties with the X-15, the problems are gradually solved. During a landing a tremendous jar shook the plane and a “fire” warning light illuminated. Scott could hardly believe his eyes when he discovered that an explosion of the rocket motors had buckled the fuselage. Finally, on November 15th, 1960, Crossfield took the second X-15 aloft. After a successful drop, he fired the rocket engine and the plane reached 80,000 feet before arching over and accelerating in a shallow dive until it exceeded Mach 3. Crossfield had become the first man to exceed three times the speed of sound – and survive! In fitting recognition, President Kennedy presented Crossfield with the International Harmon Trophy as the “world’s outstanding aviator” in 1960.
In 1961 Crossfield accepted a post as Director of Space and Missile System Testing at North American’s space and information systems division. There Crossfield helped to get the Hound Dog air-to-ground missile project on track and developed systems test and launch proposals for the Saturn booster rocket, the Apollo command and service module, and its launch escape system. Soon afterwards, he is named Division Director of Test and Quality Assurance of the space and information division, and becomes responsible for programs such as the Paraglider for bringing the Gemini spacecraft down on land, and spacecraft hardware involved in 13 major space launches, each with 100 percent success.
In 1967 Crossfield joined Eastern Airlines as Vice-President of Flight Research and Development, and flight operations. His responsibilities included safety, acceptance tests, technical development, operations, and airway procedures and controls.
One of his major contributions to Eastern was the development of a navigation system to ease air congestion in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor. His demonstration tests proved that with short take-off or landing aircraft, airport capacity could be doubled with no additional facilities. Unfortunately, when the Air Force withdraws from the S.T.O.L. Project, the program ended. As Staff Vice President of Transportation Systems Development for Eastern, Crossfield assisted in the development of a national short haul transportation plan, which resulted in the present FAA area navigation plan.
In 1974 Crossfield became Senior Vice President of Hawker Siddeley Aviation, and helps it define a short haul airliner. But the declining national economy killed the project.
In 1975 he became a technical consultant to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Science and Technology and focused on the problems created by the growth of domestic air travel. He helped to develop a congressional policy on collision avoidance systems, and led a dedicated effort that resulted in the computerized national airspace system plan, offering a great improvement in airline service and safety.
For more information on Frederick Crawford, you may want to visit the following websites: