The new edition of Air & Space has an account of Maj. Robert White’s suborbital flight in an X-15 in 1962. White, who recent passed away, flew to an altitude of 59.5 miles and was awarded astronaut wings by the United States Air Force. It was the first suborbital flight in a winged vehicle, and it helped to pave the way for the current generation of vehicles that will fly tourists into space:
As Allavie rolls the B-52 onto the heading of 222 degrees, at the launch speed of 0.82 Mach, I start the first-stage ignition. Think of this as a pilot light on a gas stove; there is no real power yet because itâ€™s “idling.” Joe Walker calls the countdown: “Fourâ€¦threeâ€¦twoâ€¦oneâ€¦LAUNCH!”
I flick the “Drop” toggle switch. The X-15 falls away and I shove the throttle forward. The acceleration is tremendous, and as I pitch up in a 40-degree climb, the G-forces build. X-15 pilot Bill Dana was fond of saying that because of the 4 Gs against the chest endured during powered flight, the X-15 is the only aircraft in which he was glad when the engine quit.
The plan called for an 80-second burn to reach 282,000 feet and Mach 5.15. But this engine performed very well, and by topping off the LOX, I was able to burn the engine for an extra two seconds, which allowed me to accelerate to Mach 5.45 and peak at 314,750 feet, becoming the first person to fly an aircraft above 300,000 feet and also the first pilot to fly a winged vehicle into space…
At the time, four Americans had earned astronaut wings: Project Mercuryâ€™s Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, and Scott Carpenter. With that X-15 flight, I became the fifth.
The article has some other details. Chuck Yeager may have broken through to Mach 1, but White was the first man to fly Mach 4, 5 and 6 — all in the X-15. One of the chase plane pilots for the suborbital flight was later Gemini and Apollo astronaut Jim McDivitt. Immediately after the flight, Walker flew to Washington with fellow X-15 pilots Scott Crossfield, Joe Walker and Forrest Peterson to receive the prestigious Collier Trophy from President John F. Kennedy.