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December 20, 2004

If Airplanes Could Talk...

Actually, they do. You just have to know how to listen.

In this case, what you would learn would go a long way in getting you to understand and appreciate the Golden Age of aviation. From Scott Crossfield's blazing ascents into near-space to the Scram Jet's blistering run across the Pacific at 7,000 MPH+, "Balls 8" was, at one time or another, at the center of the known universe for thousands of scientists, engineers, pilots and maintainers. Her "passing" is indeed a milestone and she will be missed.

It hasn't been a good year for these winged icons...the last of the KC-135s that helped train astronauts and supported Hollywood film crews (among other things), affectionately known as the Vomit Comet (sorry), was also retired.

By the way, if you want to get a good feel for what the test pilots faced during the Golden Age, dig a little deeper into Crossfield's experiences as a test guy (the link above is a good start). I'm willing to bet not many have seen the explosion on the test stand that Scott was, quite literally, sitting in front of when it occurred (the X-15 rockets were a tad tempermental)...or the landing he made in the X-15 where the thing broke in half on landing skid (as opposed to a landing roll--the only wheels were on the nose gear). For some pretty cool overall X-15 footage, go here.

BTW, pilots define "Golden Age" as that time when the adult supervision didn't know enough about the risks to say you couldn't do stuff. I call it the Constitutional Period--anything not specifically prohibited was allowed. Heh.

Instapilot