Wingtips with Spurs

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His spurs were clinking and clanking as he walked. Then and there I knew I wanted to fly the Starfighter.

I got my chance in December , when I was selected to attend the U. At the time, the grand old man of supersonic flight, Colonel Charles E. The Air Force had initiated its own manned space program with the Boeing X Dyna-Soar, a single-seat space vehicle scheduled to make its first flight in , just three years away.

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NASA astronauts, on the other hand, returned to Earth in a capsule suspended from a parachute and landed in the ocean. Yeager was instrumental in changing the curriculum of the test pilot school to include spaceflight training. He still had the golden touch: Yeager seemed to have a credit card enabling him to tap into the Air Force budget, and there seemed to be no limit to what he could spend.

I will put the Air Force in space. To give his students a real taste of space, Yeager contracted with Lockheed to modify three production Fs for high-altitude flight. Designated NFs, they were inexpensive trainers that would expose students to altitudes above , feet. Like the X, the NFs had small directional thrusters in the nose and wingtips for attitude control up where normal controls had no effect. Each NF was equipped with a Rocketdyne liquid-fuel rocket engine that used JP-4 fuel and hydrogen peroxide as an oxidizer to produce 6, pounds of thrust.

With the reaction control system, a student could control the NF on a zero-G trajectory through the thin atmosphere at the edge of space for about 80 seconds. The pilot wore a pressure suit; without engine power at that altitude there was no cockpit pressurization. It was widely understood that whoever first pushed the NF to its maximum performance was certain to set a world record for altitude achieved by an aircraft taking off under its own power.

In the Soviets had set a record of , feet with the EA, a rocket-powered variant of the MiG fighter. Some U. After a few months the program was turned over to Major Robert W.

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A year later, when I was assigned to the fighter branch, I did a little off-the-record dogfighting against Smitty. By disabling the safety system that prevented loss of control at high angles of attack and high Gs, he could fly the F near its aerodynamic limits. Smitty reached , feet on one zoom—not an official world record because it was a test flight and the official monitors were not in place. Optimum climb angle for the aircraft turned out to be between 65 and 70 degrees, which, added to a degree seat cant and a five-degree angle of attack, left the pilot reclined at an angle of about 85 degrees.

On one flight, Smitty tried an angle of 85 degrees, but he lost control and tumbled, going over the top upside down. The aircraft entered a spin but he recovered. Smitty was fearless. Yeager had taken the NF up three times to get a feel for it, and on December 10, , he was scheduled to fly two zoom flights in preparation for an all-out record attempt the next day. During the morning flight he reached , feet, but Yeager felt the Starfighter could be taken much higher. As the aircraft passed through 70, feet, ground control informed Yeager that he had less than the desired angle of climb.

He applied the reaction controls to get back on the flight path, a technique he had used before. But on this flight he was at a lower altitude , feet and the reaction controls were not yet effective.