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The Mission click on the links below for more of the story...
1 Birth of a Spaceplane - 2 The Test Pilots - 3 Joint Test Program - 4 Theory to Reality - 5 World Record - 6 Surprise, Surprise - 7 Strike Two! - 8 Enduring World Record - 9 A Big Surprise - 10 Going for Broke - 11 Unwanted Record for Chuck Yeager - 12 Spin, Crash & Rescue - 13 Accident Board (Strike Three for Me!) - 14 Three Up & Three Down - 15 The End...Finis...QED - 16 Yeager's View in Review - 17 What's in the Future? - 18 Farewell, but Didn't Fare Well!-

7  Strike Two!

On a later max zoom I was unable to get a relight of the jet engine, so I faced a dead-stick landing.  This was of no significant concern, since I had the dry lakebed and runway for landing.  I always intended to use the runway, if I could achieve radio contact with Edwards Tower, which was sometimes difficult because the small “Mickey Mouse” radio offered poor contact at times.  It replaced a standard radio for weight and space savings. I had planned to land on the runway, if possible in such an event for two reasons, both of which I felt were significant enough to warrant the shorter length of runway than extended dry lake bed, as was used by the X-15.  Both concerned damage to the aircraft.

My first concern was the need to quickly attach special ground equipment to the rocket engine or major damage would result.  We were blessed with two of the best crew chiefs I ever had and they were amazing in being able to support this one pilot, three airplane test program, with very limited resources, so there was no way I wanted to risk losing an engine, or overburdening them unnecessarily.

And, I would always make an emergency landing on the runway in preference to the Muroc dry lakebed, because weather effects damaged the dirt surface with risk to tires, gear, ultimately the aircraft.  Sure, the X-15, used the lakebed as the primary site for their landings because they needed the extra margin of length, but the lakebed runway was carefully examined by a multi-man walkover, and even “resurfaced”, whenever necessary, before their every mission.  The last thing our “shoestring program” needed was major damage due to collapse of a main gear in a hole.  What the Hell?  I didn’t need that added risk either, since a gear torn off at over 200 knots in that little airplane was not healthy!

I was able to contact the tower and I set up the landing approach so I could stop right by the crew on the apron of the runway, where I had requested they have the necessary equipment.  Assuring that the airplane got serviced quickly enough to save the engine and not having risked damage landing on the lakebed had me feeling real good, after I got out of my pressure suit and returned to Test Operations.  That feeling was not to last for long. 

Col. Guy Townsend, Deputy Test Director, jumped on me severely for this “failure to use good judgment and violation of regulations”, when in fact, there was no regulation against making a dead-stick landing on the runway. No command in its right mind would author such an order!  Furthermore, this was as long a runway as any in the Air Force, 15,000 feet, and ended with a smooth feed-in to the lakebed in the direction that I chose to land, so I had the best of both, surface and length.

I never really knew the colonel that well, only that he had been the Air Force test pilot for the B-52 program, and he always seemed pleasant with a southern accent, even after years in the service, that would put Scarlet O’Hara to shame.  I was, however, getting a different slant, since this was the second time he tore into me for what I truly believe were proper judgments on my part.  Both served the interest of the Air Force, beyond doubt.

In the prior case, I was directed and performed a perfectly legitimate test on an F-104A that proved to save many million dollars for the Air Force, only to be chastised for doing what I was assigned to do.  Had I not done that, every F-104 in the world would have been modified, by adding costly strakes, which proved unequivocally of absolutely no value, contrary to invalid contractor and Test Pilot School tests.

It struck me at that moment that, although terribly agitated, he seemed from his mannerism to actually be frightened and furious more than commanding in tone.  Visions of career risks must have shaken him more than concern for the outcome.  That kind of thinking, “political correctness”, was not as prevalent in government then, as now, but certainly not unknown.  My dear friend from my first squadron, and later Edwards test, “Bud” Evans, mentioned seeing Townsend at a fairly recent event, at which Guy brought this episode up to him. Forty years is a long time for that memory to stick in the mind of the “Guy” who did the ass-chewing, so it must have meant a great deal to him.

That dead stick was strike two for me with Guy Townsend, and I am glad to hear it still bugged him, because he was to hit me with a Strike Out, in short order, from which I wished him years of conscience trouble, and maybe his recollection of the event indicated that.

I had another failed air-start in the AST around that time and was planning to land on the runway again, when I got restarted at lower altitude.  Damned if I would take unnecessary risks, just to coddle that colonel.

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