NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
X-15 hypersonic aircraft. This is X-15A-2, landing in 1967. It had an ablative coating which helped it set several speed records by protecting it from the high temperatures associated with hypersonic flight (above Mach 5). Developed by the US Air Force and NASA, the X-15 was a rocket-powered research aircraft designed to investigate flight at hypersonic speeds. Three X-15s flew a total of 199 missions between 1959 and 1968. The X-15 was carried into the air by a converted B-52 bomber and released at high altitude. The pilot then ignited the craft's rocket motor. It was the first plane to reach the edge of outer space and set records for the fastest manned aircraft (7,274 kilometres per hour, or Mach 6.72).
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