Heroes in Flight: Albert Scott Crossfield

Albert Scott Crossfield was an American naval officer and test pilot. In 1953, he became the first pilot to fly at twice the speed of sound. He was the first of twelve pilots who flew the North American X-15, an experimental spaceplane operated by NASA.

The Early Years

In 1950, at age 29, Crossfield joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautic (NACA) High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base as an aeronautical research pilot. He quickly demonstrated his flight test skills on his very first student solo. During his first spin, he experienced vibrations, banging, and noise in the aircraft – something he had never encountered with his instructor. He recovered, climbed to a higher altitude, and repeated his spin entry and recovery. He later discovered the noise was from the disengaged instructor’s door which his instructor had been holding during their practice sessions.

Military Career

Over the next five years, Crossfield flew nearly all of the experimental aircraft under test at Edwards, including the X-1, XF-92, X-5, D-558-I Skystreak, and the D-558-II Skyrocket. During one of his X-1 flights, his cockpit windows completely frosted and he was flying blind.  He removed his shoe, took off his sock, and created a peephole to reference his chase plane wingman all the way to landing.

On November 20, 1953, he became the first person to fly at twice the speed of sound as he piloted the Skyrocket to a speed of 1,291 mph.

North American Aviation Career

As chief engineering test pilot for North American, Crossfield played a major role in the design and development of the North American X-15. His job was to demonstrate the airworthiness at speeds ranging up to Mach 3 (2,290 mph). The test was considered extremely dangerous. Crossfield flew 14 of the 199 X-15 flight tests.

Civilian Career

In 1961, Crossfield became division director of test and quality assurance for NAA’s Paraglider project. In 1967, he joined Eastern Air Lines where he served as a division vice president for research and development and, as a staff vice president working with the U.S. Military on air traffic control technologies.

Later Life

Crossfield was played by Scott Wilson in the 1983 movie, “The Right Stuff.” In 1986 he created and funded the A. Scott Crossfield Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year Award. The award is presented annually under the stewardship of the Civil Air Patrol during the National Congress on Aerospace Education.

On April 19, 2006, a Cessna 210A piloted by Crossfield was reported missing while flying from Alabama to Virginia. The next day authorities confirmed his body was found in the wreckage of his plane in a remote area of Georgia. There were severe thunderstorms in the area when air traffic controllers lost radio and radar contact with Crossfield’s plane.

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