Some of you might have heard on Thursday about the death of Scott Crossfield, one of the great "test" pilots of all time. Though there have been a good many "great ones" over the years Jimmy Doolittle, Chuck Yeager, Tex Johnston, and Scott Crossfield would have to be on any top ten list. There was a lady as well, who should have been among the first astronauts, named Jackie Cochran.
Yeager is now the only surviving member of that elite...
Perhaps I spent way too many hours watching Discovery's "Wings" channel before it became "The Military Channel", perhaps it's my infatuation with aircraft since my childhood, but I've seen a lot of footage of these men, I read their exploits in my youth and was fortunate enough to see them telling their own stories on "Wings" over the last few years.
Crossfield was the first man to fly twice the speed of sound, among other things. Yeager went out not long after and bested it to almost 2.5 times. They had quite a rivalry, Yeager being the military's pilot, and Crossfield being the civilian representing what became NASA.
NPR's reminiscence included a story about one of the two X-15 fires Crossfield survived; when he put the burning plane down it's "back" broke and he couldn't open the canopy to get out. His mechanic got to it and was trying to get him out, flames burning both inside and outside the aircraft. Crossfield, enveloped in flame in the tiny cockpit was trying to shoo the mechanic away because the man was getting burnt in trying to get him out!
Most every aircraft you've ever seen or flown in owes something to these men who took those things that were dreamt up on drawing boards, before computers, out to see if they worked, and if they didn't tried to figure out why. So many things we take for granted were first checked out, made "right" and improved by them.
Now, when a computer can tell you if it will or won't work before you ever build it, it might seem "crazy" to risk your life that way. Our lives are very safe and sane-thanks to these legends and heroes!