The Time Traveler
Downey becomes space race center

By John Adams
(Fifth of a series)

DOWNEY-The Downey U.S. Air Force Plant 16/North American Aviation, Inc., occupied the same Downey land that E.M. Smith had bought in the 1920s to found an air field and aviation company, and which Vultee made great during the World War II years. It was already hallowed ground. North American suffered only a temporary setback in the government's cancellation of the Navaho missile project in July of 1957.
The new project, the Hound Dog Air-to-Ground Missile Program, was to aid the mighty U.S. fleet of B-52s hit targets while remaining at a relatively safe distance. It used much of the tracking technology already developed for the Navaho.
The contract was awarded North American in October 1958, two and a half years after the Strategic Air Command had realized its need.
And within two months of the Hound Dog contract North American won the contract to produce the Little Joe Launch Vehicle to test the Mercury capsules.
The Hound Dog was the mainstay of the company through the early 1960s, turning out missiles to arm SAC's 29 B-52 squadrons.

Little Joe Launch Vehicle

Meanwhile, the Little Joe Launch Vehicle was developed for the Mercury program, and helped prove the soundness of the Mercury's concept.
While the Hound Dog and Little Joe occupied 98 percent of the Downey plant, a few small groups of scientists here conducted intensive research into space related concepts. These included designs for an instrument capsule to be rocket-shot to the moon, an electric-engine Mars probe vehicle, a base camp for lunar exploration, an electrodynamics gun for simulating the impact of micrometeorites on spacecraft, a chamber for reproducing space conditions at Mach 20, a centrifuge for studying plant biological effects in zero-gravity, and a scale model of the lunar surface.

Significant name change

Under corporate president Lee Atwood, North American began to redirect the Downey Missile Division away from missiles and toward space exploration. In 1960 the name "Missile Division" was changed to "Space and Information Systems Division."
Atwood also transferred the development team of the greatly successful X-15 from the North American Los Angeles Division to Downey, as well as launch vehicle experts from Rocketdyne, and advanced management personnel from the Columbus Division. About 50 advanced-degreed scientists were also brought here from various corporate laboratories. He also had the plant repainted.


The Russian success with Sputnik I in 1958 and the failure of the American Vanguard rocket, spurred Congress to pass the National Aeronautics and Space Act that established NASA.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy called for..."a new American enterprise, that of placing a man on the moon and returning him before the decade is out." At the time, America's experience with man in space amounted to little more than 15 minutes of Alan Shephard's sub-orbital ride in a Mercury capsule. Except for a few Downey scientists who had been studying these concepts, no one in America was aware of radiation along the lunar space way, the potential for micrometeorites, the physiological effects of weightlessness on humans, or even if a lunar vehicle would sink into the deep moon dust some "experts" thought existed. To accomplish the goal of placing a man on the moon, NASA in 1961 put out two separate space program contracts. The first was for the Saturn S-II, the second stage of a launch vehicle system (the Saturn V Lunar Launch Vehicle) designed to send multi-ton payloads into space. The second was the Project Apollo Spacecraft Development Program, encompassing the man-carrying command module and the attached service module. Atwood's foresight paid off. North American won both contracts within three months of each other. Downey was suddenly the industrial center of America's lunar mission. (Sources of this series on Downey aviation history include the July 1999 Preliminary Final Historic Buildings and Structures Inventory Evaluation published by NASA).                   
More on Downey's role

Each wing could now support a GAM-77 Hound Dog, the first Air Launched Cruise
Missile (ALCM)

Little Joe developed for the Mercury Program

Alan Shehard in space
in Mercury capsule

Mercury, Gemini, and
Apollo spacecraft.

X-15 above & pilot patch

X-15 and B-52

X-15    Harrison Storms' - movers and shakers

"Chief Project Engineer
Charles Feltz; Assistant Project Engineers Bud Benner and Ron Robinson; Power Plant Engineer Bob Fields; Regulators and Relief Valves Expert John Gibb; Chief of Aerodynamics Larry Greene; Project Aerodynamicist Bill Johnston. The remaining two individuals who are very outstanding in my mind are
Scott Crossfield and Al White".

Dr. Harrison Storms Jr.

Charles Feltz

Dale Myers

Mr. J. Leland Atwood:Interview
"Charles Feltz (pictured above), project engineer, was project engineer on the X-15, also very experienced and capable, and good financial management there.
ATWOOD: Well, we were building the X-15, and that had sparked the idea of space in everybody's mind. We'd gotten that contract from, I think the Air Force ran a competition, although it was a joint project, NASA, Air Force, I guess the Navy participated to some extent. It was the first exo-atmospheric manned vehicle that we had. It was done by people like Harrison Storms.
Charlie Feltz was the project engineer. They were just airplane people, but the work was quite good and quite successful. One plane was lost, but it was not blamed on any of our engineering. It was a special flight control unit worked out by some of the government people at NASA, they were trying it out, and it caused the plane to go out of control. But it was late in the program and they were just experimenting. It was really quite a program. You know, we had to cover that stability for a very big spread of air density--that is, air density because of altitude, and speed--and then we had to control it in space, with these little jets like they had on the Mercury and Apollo. So it was a big step ahead. We went to Mach 6, I think, finally".

An unofficial motto of flight research in the 1940s and 1950s was "higher and faster." By the late 1950s the last frontier of that goal was hypersonic flight (Mach 5+) to the edge of space. It would require a huge leap in aeronautical technology, life support systems and flight planning. The North American X-15 rocket plane was built to meet that challenge. It was designed to fly at speeds up to Mach 6, and altitudes up to 250,000 ft. The aircraft went on to reach a maximum speed of Mach 6.7 and a maximum altitude of 354,200 ft. Looking at it another way, Mach 6 is about one mile per second, and flight above 264,000 ft. qualifies an Air Force pilot for astronaut wings.
The X-15 was a rocket-powered aircraft 50 ft long with a wingspan of 22 ft. It was a missile-shaped vehicle with an unusual wedge-shaped vertical tail, thin stubby wings, and unique side fairings that extended along the side of the fuselage. The X-15 weighed about 14,000 lb empty and approximately 34,000 lb at launch. The XLR-99 rocket engine, manufactured by Thiokol Chemical Corp., was pilot controlled and was capable of developing 57,000 lb of thrust. North American Aviation built three X-15 aircraft for the program.
The X-15 research aircraft was developed to provide in-flight information and data on aerodynamics, structures, flight controls, and the physiological aspects of high-speed, high-altitude flight. A follow-on program used the aircraft as a testbed to carry various scientific experiments beyond the Earth's atmosphere on a repeated basis.
For flight in the dense air of the usable atmosphere, the X-15 used conventional aerodynamic controls such as rudders on the vertical stabilizers to control yaw and movable horizontal stabilizers to control pitch when moving in synchronization or roll when moved differentially.
For flight in the thin air outside of the appreciable Earth's atmosphere, the X-15 used a reaction control system. Hydrogen peroxide thrust rockets located on the nose of the aircraft provided pitch and yaw control. Those on the wings controlled roll.
Because of the large fuel consumption, the X-15 was air launched from a B-52 aircraft at 45,000 ft and a speed of about 500 mph. Depending on the mission, the rocket engine provided thrust for the first 80 to 120 sec of flight. The remainder of the normal 10 to 11 min. flight was powerless and ended with a 200-mph glide landing.
Generally, one of two types of X-15 flight profiles was used; a high-altitude flight plan that called for the pilot to maintain a steep rate of climb, or a speed profile that called for the pilot to push over and maintain a level altitude.
The X-15 was flown over a period of nearly 10 years -- June 1959 to Oct. 1968 -- and set the world's unofficial speed and altitude records of 4,520 mph (Mach 6.7) and 354,200 ft in a program to investigate all aspects of piloted hypersonic flight. Information gained from the highly successful X-15 program contributed to the development of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo piloted spaceflight programs, and also the Space Shuttle program.
The X-15s made a total of 199 flights, and were manufactured by North American Aviation.
X-15-1, serial number 56-6670, is now located at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC. North American X-15A-2, serial number 56-6671, is at the United States Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. X-15-3, serial number 56-6672, crashed on 15 November 1967, resulting in the death of Maj. Michael J. Adams. Parts of the X-15-3 are on display at the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards AFB, and the San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, California.

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