North American X-15

YouTube – North American X-15

Primary Function:
Rocket Burn Time:
Liquid Oxygen:
Weight Empty:
Max. Weight:
Max. Speed:
Landing Speed:
Climb Rate:
First flight:
Last flight: 
Reaction Motors
70,400 lbs.
1 min 20 sec – 2 min
1,000 gallons
1,445 gallons
14,605 lbs.
33,914 lbs.
52 ft. 5 in.
22 ft. 4 in.
4,510 mph
200 mph
60,000 fpm
354,200 feet
280 miles
June 8, 1959
Oct. 24, 1968


North American X-15North American X-15

The North American X-15 first took to the sky on June 8, 1959. A total of 199 flights were made.  The last flight took place on Oct. 24, 1968. A 200th flight was never made, even after several attempts. They were all canceled due to either technical problems or the weather.

Of the 199 flights a total of thirteen exceeded an altitude of 50 miles. The U.S. designates a pilot who has exceeded that altitude as an astronaut.

On Aug. 22, 1963 Joseph A. Walker piloted a North American X-15 to an altitude of 354,199 feet. The record stood until Oct. 4, 2004. It still holds the world speed record of 4,519 mph set by William Knight on Oct. 3, 1967.

The North American X-15 was flown by Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. He was among the twelve pilots who flew the aircraft.

The two surviving North American X-15 aircraft are on exhibit. One is at the National Air &Space Museum in Washington, DC and the other is at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH.

The primary differences between aircraft models are a heat resistant treated fuselage, two fuel tanks beneath the fuselage, and a lengthening of a little over two feet.

Mission preparation could take up to 200 hours. This included a number of various simulations, ground checks and in flight systems checks.

North American X-15 aircraft were launched from under the wing of a B-52 mother ship. Pilots describe the launch as being “fired from a cannon.”

After rocket ignition it took approximately a minute and a half for the North American X-15 to achieve maximum altitude. All the time, the pilot, pressed back in his seat at 2 to 4 G’s, concentrated on achieving the correct angle of ascent and speed, monitoring climb rate and altitude.

X-15 pilots were kept busy. Controls for on board experiments needed to be actuated while the pilot also worked on regulating engine thrust and final shutdown of the rocket engine. During flight in the upper atmosphere, where the air is so thin that the conventional flight controls do not work, the pilot guided the aircraft using attitude control rockets.

Upon reentry a pilot experienced forces of up to 5 G’s. On final approach the X-15 handled somewhat like a conventional airplane. Pilots reported no difficulties in final approach or landing of the aircraft.

North American X-15

North American X-15

The RC North American X-15 built by Frank Burke has a wingspan of 19 in. and length is 27 in. Frank uses a Park 180 motor turning a 6 x 5.5 propeller to push it.

We received the following email from Frank: “Hi, I’ve built and flown a profile pusher electric RC North American X-15, runs on a full flying tail only, very docile and good flight performance, I just converted to take a rocket, motor so you can launch vertically under rocket, or fly it on electric, this was featured in a recent issue of model aviation, I’ve done several X planes, all profiles. The RC North American X-15 was one of my first and is very simple to build out of depron, and flies very very well.  My RC North American X-15 belly lands no problem and will fly in very small areas. I’ll attach a photo, and the thread with a couple of links to videos is in the thread if interested. Plans are posted with a link also in the thread; they are free for download.  You can find the launch video here:”

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