Historic Photo Shows Wrecked X-15 after 1962 Mud Lake Crash

x 15 crash wreck  Historic Photo Shows Wrecked X-15 after 1962 Mud Lake Crash(Image: NASA, public domain)

On November 9, 1962, during a research flight in the second X-15 airframe, an engine failure forced NASA pilot Jack McKay to make an emergency landing at Mud lake, Nevada. The impact caused the landing gear to collapse, flipping the aircraft onto its back. McKay escaped with his life, but his injuries eventually forced him to retire from NASA.

The X-15 was returned to its manufacturer, North American, and over the next year underwent extensive repairs and a series of modifications. The rocket-powered X-plane was returned to Edwards AFB in February 1964 with an extended fuselage and external fuel tanks.

mud lake nevada  Historic Photo Shows Wrecked X-15 after 1962 Mud Lake Crash(Image: DigitalGlobe via Google Earth)

Renamed the X-15A-2, the aircraft, tail number 56-6671, also received a complete heat-resistant ablative coating. It’s now on permanent display at the Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio. (Check out our brief history of ‘Balls 8’, the B-52 mothership.)

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

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.