OVERVIEW: This 700+ page book is part of the NASA HISTORY SERIES. A history of the design and achievements of the high-speed, 1950s-era X-15 airplane. FROM THE FORWARD BY WILLIAM H. DANA: The X-15 was an airplane of accelerations. When an X-15 pilot looks back on his X-15 flights, it is the accelerations he remembers. The first of these sensations was the acceleration due to B-52 lift, which held the X-15 at launch altitude and prevented it from falling to Earth. When the X-15 pilot hit the launch switch, the B-52 lift was no longer accessible to the X-15. The X-15 fell at the acceleration due to Earth's gravity, which the pilot recognized as "free fall" or "zero g." Only when the pilot started the engine and put some "g" on the X-15 was this sensation of falling relieved. The next impression encountered on the X-15 flight came as the engine lit, just a few seconds after launch. A 33,000-pound airplane was accelerated by a 57,000-lbf engine, resulting in a chest-to-back acceleration of almost 2 g. Then, as the propellant burned away and the atmosphere thinned with increasing altitude, the chest-to-back acceleration increased and the drag caused by the atmosphere lessened. For a standard altitude mission (250,000 feet), the weight and thrust were closer to 15,000 pounds and 60,000-lbf at shutdown, resulting in almost 4-g chest-to-back acceleration. The human body is not stressed for 4 g chest to back, and by shutdown the boost was starting to get a little painful. Milt Thompson once observed that the X-15 was the only aircraft he had ever flown where he was glad when the engine quit. On a mission to high altitude (above 250,000 feet), the pilot did not regain any sensible air with which to execute a pullout until about 180,000 feet, and could not pull 1 g of lift until 130,000 feet. Flying a constant angle of attack on reentry, the pilot allowed g to build up to 5, and then maintained 5 g until the aircraft was level at about 80,000 feet. There was a deceleration from Mach 5 at 80,000 feet to about Mach 1 over the landing runway, and the pilot determined the magnitude of the deceleration by the use of speed brakes. This ended the high-g portion of the flight, except for one pilot who elected to start his traffic pattern at 50,000 feet and Mach 2, and flew a 360-degree overhead pattern from that starting point. Flight to high altitude represented about two-thirds of the 199 X-15 flights. Flights to high speed or high dynamic pressure accounted for the other third, and those flights remained well within the atmosphere for the entire mission. The pilot of a high-speed flight got a small taste of chest-to-back acceleration during the boost (thrust was still greater than drag, but not by such a large margin as on the high-altitude flights). The deceleration after burnout was a new sensation. This condition was high drag and zero thrust, and it had the pilot hanging in his shoulder straps, with perspiration dripping off the tip of his nose onto the inside of his face plate. Milt Thompson collected anecdotes about the X-15 that remain astonishing to this day. Milt noted that at Mach 5, a simple 20-degree heading change required 5 g of normal acceleration for 10 seconds. Milt also pointed out that on a speed flight, the (unmodified) X-15-1 accelerated from Mach 5 to Mach 6 in six seconds. These were eye-opening numbers at the time of the X-15 program. Those of us in the program at flight 190 thought that the X-15 would continue indefinitely. Then, on flight 191, Major Michael J. Adams experienced electrical irregularities that made the inertial flight instruments unreliable and may have disoriented him. In any case, at peak altitude (266,000 feet), the X-15 began a yaw to the right. It reentered the atmosphere, yawed crosswise to the flight path, and went into a high-speed spin. It eventually came out of the spin but broke up during the reentry, killing the pilot.