Number of Research Flights
I thought it would be interesting to compare Uncle Gene's research flight record with those of his peers. But who should I include? Those pilots that flew during the same time period as Gene? That would be no contest at all. Gene only flew from April of 1947 until December of 1949 and with that time restriction, the next closest in number of flights would be Chuck Yeager with less than 1/5 as many as Gene. No, to be fair it need to be broader. It needed to include all those pilots who flew similar aircraft in similar research programs. But just where do I draw the line?
Richard Hallion, Air Force Historian, divides the United State's high speed aircraft research program into two phases -- transonic-supersonic (investigating speeds from Mach .8 through Mach 5) and hypersonic (investigating flight at speeds greater than Mach 5). NASA now refers to the research aircraft that explored these speed ranges and their associated "barriers" (the sound barrier and the thermal barrier) as Round One and Round Two vehicles.
Round One research began in 1946 with the first flight of the Bell XS-1, and includes all the later and improved versions of the X-1, the Skystreak, Skyrocket, X-2 and X-3. These research flights were conducted by Bell, Douglas, the Air Force and NACA. Round Two began in 1959 with the first flight of the X-15.
Concurrently, flight testing was underway on what NASA now refers to as the Configuration Explorers. These were aircraft designed to explore new design configurations such as delta wings, semi-tailless designs, canards, winglets, etc., that may improve the performance or safety of research, military and/or commercial aircraft. These included the semi-tailless X-4, the variable swept-wing X-5 and the delta winged XF-92A. I am not including those aircraft flights in my comparison because the purpose of their research programs was different than the true Round One aircraft. For example, the XF-92A flew at transonic-supersonic speeds, but the research program was designed to investigate the delta wing configuration, not the transonic-supersonic speed range itself.
As the chart below shows, Uncle Gene tops the list of Round One research pilots! And the D-558 aircraft, the "X planes that weren't," accounted for 65% of the transonic-supersonic research flights! Yet few have heard of Gene May, the Skystreak or Skyrocket. Amazing!
And -- I believe that about 25 of the Skyrocket flights that have been credited to Bill Bridgeman were actually made by Gene (see Flight Log Discrepancies elsewhere on this site), thereby raising the above listed total of 149 to 179!!!
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