Thursday, April 20, 2006

Scott Crossfield, 1921-2006

Before today, it's safe to say I hadn't seen or heard the name Scott Crossfield, or thought of him, in at least forty five years. But when I was about the age my daughter is now (she's in sixth grade), Crossfield was one of my heroes. He was a test pilot for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, or NACA (the forerunner of NASA, before anyone was bold enough to put "space" in the name), who, in 1953, had flown a beautiful swept-wing rocket-propelled plane, the D-558-2, at Mach 2, twice the speed of sound. Later, he flew the same craft to a new altitude record. Later still, flying a more advanced plane, the X-15, he became the first to exceed Mach 3.

Yesterday his body was found in the wreckage of his single-engine prop-driven Cessna, the same sort of plane I learned to fly in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. At 84, he was still flying solo. As with so many airmen, a sudden encounter with bad weather was his nemesis.