X-15 Test Pilot Bill Dana Dies at 83
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:
Very sad to hear that aviation pioneer Bill Dana passed away. We are big admirers of him & all involved with X-15. http://t.co/ikV0JtFhWf
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) May 7, 2014
Bill Dana was one of a very, very few. The greatest pilots and aviators the world has ever seen. Clear skies, Bill. #RIP
— Call me TJ (@TonyJWriter) May 7, 2014
— Brian Williams (@DeepSpacer) May 7, 2014
Image via Wikimedia Commons