X-15 Test Pilot Bill Dana Dies at 83

By: Mike Fossum - May 7, 2014

NASA test pilot and astronaut William Harvey “Bill” Dana passed away Tuesday at age 83.

According to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, Dana, famed as a research test pilot who flew the X-15 rocket plane and other pioneering aircraft at the dawn of the space age, died at an assisted living facility in a suburb of Phoenix.

Beginning in the 1950s, Dana piloted more than 60 types of aircraft, ranging from helicopters and sailplanes to the hypersonic X-15, which he flew to a maximum altitude of nearly 59 miles up, while reaching a speed of 3,897 mph.

Dana developed an interest in aircraft while growing up in Bakersfield, California, and told Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine, “I remember seeing B-25s and P-38s flying over at the start of World War II and there was something very glorious and exciting about the warbirds, and I was attracted to it and I never really lost my ambition to fly those airplane(s).”

Here is some 1968 X-15 newsreel featuring Dana:

Dana graduated from West Point, became an Air Force officer and was a fighter pilot in the Korean War. In 1958, he was hired as an aeronautical research engineer at NASA’s High-Speed Flight Station in the Mojave Desert, which now called Armstrong Flight Research Center. He became a test pilot the following year.

Commenting on his X-15 test flight, Dana said that the plane had a “great big engine and lots of acceleration and things happening very, very fast and I really didn’t catch up with the airplane until I was back down to about Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound), where I had been before in fighter airplanes. There’s a whole staff of engineers in the control room watching every move you make and my fear was that I would do something that would embarrass myself in the eyes of my peers, and that was the fear.” Dana added, “I don’t ever remember being afraid I was going to die.”

Aviation enthusiasts pay their respects:

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Mike FossumMike is a writer and videographer based in Lexington, KY. Follow Mike on Twitter and Google+.

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  • Joseph Tummie

    If it wasn’t for fokes like Bill Dana we wouldn’t have a space program or the jets of today. Godspeed Bill Dana and condolences to the Dana family.