Search Langley


NASA Fact Sheet

Text Size

The X-15 Hypersonic Research Program

In a joint research program that NASA conducted with the Air Force, the Navy, and North American Aviation, Inc., the X-15 experimental aircraft set the world's unofficial speed and altitude records for crewed flight. Information from the highly successful program contributed to the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle piloted space flight programs.

An X-15 in flightImage above: The X-15 in flight. Credit: NASA

In 1954, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Research Airplane Projects Panel discussed the need for a research airplane to continue studies in hypersonic (above Mach 5) and space flight. The NACA established the characteristics of what became the X-15 and presented them to the Air Force and Navy in July. The two services and NACA signed a memorandum of understanding for the joint project in December 1954. The Air Force selected North American to develop three X-15 research aircraft in September 1955.

The X-15 program investigated piloted hypersonic flight in the areas of aerodynamic performance and heating rates, structural behavior during high heating and high flight loads, hypersonic stability and control during exit from and reentry of the atmosphere, and pilot performance and physiology.

More about the X-15 program:
+ Overview
+ X-15 Test Pilots
+ X-15 Aircaft
+ X-15 Accomplishments

NASA Langley Research Center
 An X-15 in flight
X-15 Hypersonic Research Program
The X-15 paved the way for America's piloted space program, setting unofficial world records for flight speed and altitude along the way.
+ Read More
 Six pilots pose with the X-15
X-15: Test Pilots
There were 12 X-15 pilots; five from NASA, five from the Air Force, one from the Navy, and one from North American.
+ Read More
 NASA engineer and technician work with an X-15 wind tunnel model
The X-15 Aircraft
The X-15 was a single-seat, mid-wing monoplane with a maximum thrust of 57,000 lb.
+ Read More