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Despite the NASA X-15 program’s outstanding success in developing and operating the first manned hypersonic research platform, the program suffered a fatal accident on November 15, 1967, when X-15-3, the only aircraft outfitted with advanced pilot displays and an adaptive flight control system, was lost after entering uncontrolled flight at an altitude of 230,000 feet and a velocity near Mach 5. The pilot, Major Michael J. Adams, was incapacitated by the aircraft accelerations and was killed either during the ensuing breakup or upon ground impact.
A comprehensive systems-level analysis of the accident is presented with a focus on the electrical power, flight control, and instrumentation failures that affected not only the vehicle dynamics but substantially impacted the pilot decisions that led to an inevitable loss of control. Recent analysis has yielded new conclusions about the reasons for the control system’s anomalous behavior and the system-level interactions and human-machine interface design oversights that led to the accident.
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D. Bellman et al., “Investigation of the Crash of the X-15-3 Aircraft on November 15, 1967,” January 1968.
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J. Fischel and L. Webb, “Flight-Informational Sensors, Display, and Space Control of the X-15 Airplane for Atmospheric and Near-Space Flight Missions,” NASA TN D-2407, NASA Flight Research Center, 1964.
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Z. Dydek, A. Annaswamy, and E. Lavretsky, “Adaptive Control and the NASA X-15-3 Flight Revisited,” IEEE Control Syst. Mag., Vol. 30, No. 3, June 2010, pp. 32–48.
- The X-15 3-65 Accident: An Aircraft Systems and Flight Control Perspective
Jeb S. Orr
Irving C. Statler
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