The Douglas Aircraft Company built four F5D-1 Skylancers. They were built for the Navy as an all-weather fighter interceptor that never made production. The four experimental aircraft were developed with the same basic airframe as the Douglas F4D Skyray, but because of increasing modifications were re-designated F5D-1s before the craft ever flew. The airplanes were equipped with Pratt & Whitney J57-P12 engines. One of the planes was lost on the first Navy flight test.
NASA's Flight Research Center obtained two F5D-1 Skylancers in 1961. F5D-1 (Bu. No. 139208) NASA 212, and F5D-1 (Bu. No. 142350) NASA 213, later becoming NASA 708 and NASA 802 respectively.
Under development for the Air Force by Boeing Aircraft Company was Dyna-Soar (Dynamic Soaring) that had a Sanger-like boost-glider design that was to have been lofted into orbit by a Titan III booster. The X-20 Dyna-Soar was canceled before it could be flown. Its general configuration was that of a hypersonic slender delta, a flat-bottom glider using radiative cooling.
The F5D-1 Skylancer had a wing planform very similar to that projected for Dyna-Soar; NASA Flight Research pilot Neil Armstrong recognized that the Skylancer could be used to study Dyna-Soar abort procedures. How to save the pilot and space craft in the event of a launch-pad booster explosion was a problem of great concern to the Dyna-Soar team. In those days rockets weren't very dependable, commented a NASA pilot.
Near the Dyna-Soar launch pad was a 10,400-foot landing strip. The Dyna-Soar had a small escape rocket to kick it away from its booster, climb, do a half-roll, then glide to a landing. Armstrong went to Cape Canaveral, Florida, measured distances and drew a sketch of the layout. He brought back the sketch and laid out the course on Rogers Dry Lake.
Milton Thompson, test pilot had been selected as the only NASA pilot to fly the Dyna-Soar. Milt and William Dana began to fly the escape test maneuver in the F5D-1 Skylancer that Neil had developed to escape the launch pad in event of an emergency. The maneuver: Armstrong would fly the F5D-1 Skylancer about 200 feet above the desert floor at a speed of 500 knots, then pull the airplane into a vertical climb (5g climb to 7,000-8000 feet altitude), where he would pull the plane over on its back, roll the craft upright (Immelman maneuver) and then setting up a low lift-to-drag-ratio approach, touched down on a part of Rogers Dry Lake that was marked like the landing strip at Cape Canaveral. The pilots agreed, it was a fun program; everybody was doing Dyna-Soar abort maneuvers. They even used it at the Air Force Test Pilot School.
After the Dyna-Soar program was canceled in December 1963 the F5D-1 (708) went to Ames Research Center, installed with a ogee wing for an evaluation for Concorde Supersonic Transport wing study. The F5D-1 (802) stayed on at NASA Flight Research Center contributing to various tests. It became a flight simulator for the M2-F2, and a chase for the lifting bodies until 1970. In May 1970 the Douglas F5D-1 Skylancer (NASA 802) was retired and donated to the Neil A. Armstrong Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio, to rest beside the light plane in which Armstrong learned to fly.