x 15 2 ablative  Historic Photos Show X-15 Rocket Plane Exiting Paint Shop Sealed for High Speed Flight

(All images by NASA, public domain)

If you plan to push an air vehicle beyond mach 7, you’re going to need a pretty impressive thermal protection coating to keep the overall temperature of the airframe to manageable – and survivable – levels.  These historic images show the second X-15 emerging from the paint shop sporting the thick white coating engineers hoped would fulfill that task.

x 15 2 ablative coating  Historic Photos Show X-15 Rocket Plane Exiting Paint Shop Sealed for High Speed Flight

As they were to soon discover, the second flight of the newly coated (formerly black) X-15, on October 3, 1967,  was to be the fastest the type would ever undertake, as well as one of the most eventful.  When test pilot Major William J. “Pete” Knight landed back at Edwards AFB, the aircraft’s special ablative coating was said to resemble burnt firewood – you can read the full account here.