Douglas D558-II Skyocket

Gene May
Test Pilot

Gene in the cockpit of the Douglas Skyrocket

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!

Pilot Name Affiliation XS-1 X-1
X-2 X-3 Totals
Gene May Douglas           103 46     149
Scott Crossfield NACA 10         15 89     114
Bill Bridgeman Douglas             81   26 107
Joe Walker NACA 2 1     21 14 5   21 64
John McKay NACA     13   5 9 29     56
Chuck Yeager Air Force 35 4             4 43
Bob Champine NACA 13         9 12     34
John Griffith NACA 9         15 9     33
Frank Everest Air Force 10   2       2 13 3 30
Chalmers Goodlin Bell 26                 26
Howard Lillly NACA 6         19       25
John Martin Douglas           2 16     18
Marion Carl Marines           9 7     16
Stanley Butchart NACA           12 2     14
Herbert Hoover NACA 14                 14
Turner Caldwell Navy           9 3     12
Walter Jones NACA           5 7     12
Jack Woolams Bell 10                 10
Jean Ziegler Bell   6   1       2   9
Larry Peyton Douglas           6 1     7
James Fitzgerald Air Force 6                 6
Gustav Lundquist Air Force 6                 6
Jack Ridley Air Force 4   2             6
Arthur Murrary Air Force   4 1             5
Neil Armstrong NACA     4             4
John Marion Davis Air Force             4     4
I.C. Kincheloe Air Force               4   4
Albert Boyd Air Force 1           2     3
F.M. Trapnell Navy           2       2
George Jensen Douglas           2       2
Joseph Cannon Bell 1                 1
Alvin "Tex" Johnston Bell 1                 1
Richard Johnson Air Force 1                 1
M. Apt Air Force               1   1
Stuart Childs Air Force 1                 1
Patrick Fleming Air Force 1                 1
Stanley Holtoner Air Force     1             1
Robert Stephens Air Force     1             1
Richard Harer Air Force     1             1
Horace Hanes Air Force     1             1
Totals   157 15 27 1 26 231 314 20 54 846

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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