Hypersonic research aircraft X-15A-2 is a famous and significant part of aviation history. Part of the X-15 program, the X-15A-2 remains the official world record holder for the highest speed ever recorded by a crewed, powered aircraft, despite being set over half a century ago, in October 1967 by pilot William J. Knight. Knight flew at Mach 6.70 (4,520 miles per hour (7,274 km/h) or a staggering 2,021 m/s) at 102,100 feet (31,120 m).
The X-15’s purpose was to fly high and fast, testing the machine, subjecting pilots to conditions that future astronauts would face and returning with valuable data used in aircraft and spacecraft design, making it an important tool for developing spaceflight in the 1960s. It made the first manned flights to the edges of space and was the world’s first piloted aircraft to reach hypersonic speeds, or more than five times the speed of sound. Like other rocket planes, the X-15 was launched in mid-air from a B-52 “mothership” at about 45,000 feet. Once its powerful rocket ignited, the X-15 streaked upward to the limits of the atmosphere, then glided unpowered to land on a dry lakebed. Typical flights lasted about 10 minutes. The X-15 program was a joint U.S. Air Force/Navy/NASA project involving twelve pilots. Together they flew a combined 199 flights between 1959 and 1968. Eight of the twelve exceeded an altitude of 50 miles, thus qualifying them as astronauts. Ironically, one of the four who remained in the Earth’s atmosphere whilst piloting an X-15 later became the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong. Only three X-15s were built for the program and two examples survive.
X-15A-2 is the second of the three X-15s, originally designated X-15 #2. On November 9 1962, X-15 #2 had to make a high-speed emergency landing after NASA research pilot Jack McKay discovered that his rocket engine was producing only 30 percent of its maximum thrust. As the aeroplane slid across the lakebed, the left skid collapsed, turning the aircraft sideways and flipping it onto its back. McKay suffered back injuries but was eventually able to resume X-15 pilot duties, making 22 more flights. The X-15 was severely damaged, sent back to North American Aviation and rebuilt into the X-15A-2. During the rebuild, North American modified it for even greater speed, equipping it with a Reaction Motors XLR-99 engine capable of 50,000+ lbs. of thrust, adding the large orange and white propellant tanks and lengthening the fuselage about 18 inches. X-15A-2 made 53 free flights in total, 31 of those as X-15 #2.
On 3 October 1967, with pilot William "Pete" Knight of the U.S. Air Force in control, X-15A-2 reached its maximum speed of 4,520 miles per hour (7,274 km/h), setting the official world record for the highest speed ever recorded by a crewed, powered aircraft, which remains unbroken to this day. After the record flight, it was discovered that the aircraft received thermal structural damage and the covering was severely pitted and charred. Repair was considered too uneconomical and the aircraft was grounded. It was delivered to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in 1969, where it remains to this day.
This fine model is of the North American X-15A-2 at 1:20 scale. Designed and assembled completely from scratch in our Bristol Workshop, the use of technical drawings and archival imagery have allowed us to perfectly recreate every detail at scale. Individual panels and finishes were extrapolated from NASA’s technical drawings and images of the plane held at the USAF museum. 3D printing technology is used to produce the majority of the components, before our model makers use traditional machining and hand working techniques to create the most precise, accurate and faithfully detailed pieces. Multiple paint techniques and materials have been used to accurately replicate real life patination.
The X-15A-2 is limited to just five pieces.