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