Joseph A. Walker
Joseph Albert "Joe" Walker (20 February 1921 – 8 June 1966) was an American NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 test pilot
Test pilot
A test pilot is an aviator who flies new and modified aircraft in specific maneuvers, known as flight test techniques or FTTs, allowing the results to be measured and the design to be evaluated....

, and member of the U.S. Air Force Man In Space Soonest
Man In Space Soonest
Man In Space Soonest was a United States Air Force program to put a man into outer space before the Soviet Union did. The program was cancelled on August 1, 1958, and was replaced by NASA's Project Mercury. Only two men from the program would actually reach outer space. The first, Joseph A....

 program. In 1963, he made two X-15 Experimental rocket aircraft flights beyond the altitude of 100 kilometers - at the edge of outer space
Outer space
Outer space is the void that exists between celestial bodies, including the Earth. It is not completely empty, but consists of a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles: predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, and neutrinos....

. These were the only powered spaceplane
A spaceplane is a vehicle that operates as an aircraft in Earth's atmosphere, as well as a spacecraft when it is in space. It combines features of an aircraft and a spacecraft, which can be thought of as an aircraft that can endure and maneuver in the vacuum of space or likewise a spacecraft that...

 flights past that threshold until the flight of SpaceShipOne in 2004. These flights qualified him as an astronaut
An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft....

 under both the rules of the U.S. Air Force and of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale is the world governing body for air sports and aeronautics and astronautics world records. Its head office is in Lausanne, Switzerland. This includes man-carrying aerospace vehicles from balloons to spacecraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles...

 (FAI). Joe Walker was the first man to fly into outer space on two different occasions.

Early years

Born in Washington, Pennsylvania
Washington, Pennsylvania
Washington is a city in and the county seat of Washington County, Pennsylvania, United States, within the Pittsburgh Metro Area in the southwestern part of the state...

, Walker graduated from the Trinity High School
Trinity High School (Washington, Pennsylvania)
Trinity High School is a public high school located on a hilltop overlooking the city of Washington, Pennsylvania, in the United States. Its bell tower has been a landmark in Washington County for years....

. He earned his bachelor's degree in physics from the Washington and Jefferson College before entering the U.S. Army Air Forces.

Military career

During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Walker flew the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter and F-5A photo aircraft (a modified P-38) on weather reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

 flights. Walker earned the Distinguished Flying Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross (United States)
The Distinguished Flying Cross is a medal awarded to any officer or enlisted member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself or herself in support of operations by "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, subsequent to November 11, 1918." The...

 once, awarded by General Nathan Twining
Nathan Farragut Twining
Nathan Farragut Twining, KBE was a United States Air Force General, born in Monroe, Wisconsin. He was Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force from 1953 until 1957...

 in July 1944 and the Air Medal
Air Medal
The Air Medal is a military decoration of the United States. The award was created in 1942, and is awarded for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.-Criteria:...

 with seven oak leaf cluster
Oak leaf cluster
An oak leaf cluster is a common device which is placed on U.S. Army and Air Force awards and decorations to denote those who have received more than one bestowal of a particular decoration. The number of oak leaf clusters typically indicates the number of subsequent awards of the decoration...


Test pilot

After World War II, Walker retired from the Air Force and joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was a U.S. federal agency founded on March 3, 1915 to undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research. On October 1, 1958 the agency was dissolved, and its assets and personnel transferred to the newly created National Aeronautics and...

 (NACA) Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and is the county seat of Cuyahoga County, the most populous county in the state. The city is located in northeastern Ohio on the southern shore of Lake Erie, approximately west of the Pennsylvania border...

, as an experimental physicist. While in Cleveland, Walker became a test pilot
Test pilot
A test pilot is an aviator who flies new and modified aircraft in specific maneuvers, known as flight test techniques or FTTs, allowing the results to be measured and the design to be evaluated....

, and he conducted icing research in flight, as well as in the NACA icing wind tunnel. He transferred to the High-Speed Flight Research Station in Edwards, California
Edwards, California
Edwards is an unincorporated community in Kern County, California.It is located east-southeast of Mojave, at an elevation of 2356 feet ....

, in 1951.

Walker served for 15 years at the Edwards Flight Research Facility - now called the Dryden Flight Research Center
Dryden Flight Research Center
The Dryden Flight Research Center , located inside Edwards Air Force Base, is an aeronautical research center operated by NASA. On March 26, 1976 it was named in honor of the late Hugh L. Dryden, a prominent aeronautical engineer who at the time of his death in 1965 was NASA's deputy administrator...

. By the mid-1950s, he was a Chief Research Pilot. Walker worked on several pioneering research projects. He flew in three versions of the Bell X-1
Bell X-1
The Bell X-1, originally designated XS-1, was a joint NACA-U.S. Army/US Air Force supersonic research project built by Bell Aircraft. Conceived in 1944 and designed and built over 1945, it eventually reached nearly 1,000 mph in 1948...

: the X-1#2 (two flights, first on 27 August 1951), X-1A (one flight), X-1E (21 flights). When Walker attempted a second flight in the X-1A on 8 August 1955, the rocket aircraft was damaged in an explosion just before being launched from the JTB-29A mothership. Walker was unhurt, though, and he climbed back into the mothership with the X-1A subsequently jettisoned.

Other research aircraft that he flew were the Douglas D-558-I Skystreak
Douglas Skystreak
The United States Douglas Skystreak was a single-engine jet research aircraft of the 1940s. It was designed in 1945 by the Douglas Aircraft Company for the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, in conjunction with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics...

 #3 (14 flights), Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket
Douglas Skyrocket
The Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket was a rocket and jet-powered supersonic research aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company for the United States Navy...

 #2 (three flights), D-558-II #3 (two flights), Douglas X-3 Stiletto
X-3 Stiletto
The Douglas X-3 Stiletto was a 1950s United States experimental jet aircraft with a slender fuselage and a long tapered nose, manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Its primary mission was to investigate the design features of an aircraft suitable for sustained supersonic speeds, which...

 (20 flights), Northrop X-4 Bantam (two flights), and Bell X-5
Bell X-5
-See also:-Bibliography:* Hallion, Richard P. On The Frontier: Flight Research At Dryden 1946-1981 . Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1984 . ISBN 1-58834-134-8....

 (78 flights).

Walker was the chief project pilot for the X-3 program. Walker reportedly considered the X-3 to be the worst airplane that he ever flew. In addition to research aircraft, Walker flew many chase plane
Chase plane
A chase plane is an aircraft that "chases" another aircraft, a spacecraft or a rocket during flight. Safety can be one function of a chase plane; others are to photo or video the target vehicle, or to collect engineering data from it...

s during test flights of other aircraft, and he also flew in programs that involved the North American F-100 Super Sabre, McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, Convair F-102 Delta Dagger, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and Boeing B-47 Stratojet.

X-15 program

In 1958, Walker was one of the pilots selected for the Air Force's Man In Space Soonest
Man In Space Soonest
Man In Space Soonest was a United States Air Force program to put a man into outer space before the Soviet Union did. The program was cancelled on August 1, 1958, and was replaced by NASA's Project Mercury. Only two men from the program would actually reach outer space. The first, Joseph A....

 (MISS) project, but that project never came to fruition. That same year, NACA became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 (NASA), and in 1960, Walker became the first NASA pilot to fly the X-15, and the second X-15 pilot, following Scott Crossfield, the manufacturer
Aerospace manufacturer
An aerospace manufacturer is a company or individual involved in the various aspects of designing, building, testing, selling, and maintaining aircraft, aircraft parts, missiles, rockets, and/or spacecraft....

's test pilot. On his first X-15 flight, Walker did not realize how much power that its rocket engines had, and he was crushed backward into the pilot's seat, screaming, "Oh, my God!". Then, a flight controller jokingly replied "Yes? You called?" Walker would go on to fly the X-15 24 times, including the only two flights that exceeded 100 kilometers (62.2 miles) in altitude, Flight 90
X-15 Flight 90
-Crew:-Mission parameters:*Mass: 15,195 kg fueled; 6,577 kg burnout; 6,260 kg landed*Maximum Altitude: 106.01 km*Range: 534 km*Burn Time: 84.6 seconds*Mach: 5.50*Launch Vehicle: NB-52B Bomber #008...

 (on 19 July 1963: 106 km) and Flight 91
X-15 Flight 91
X-15 Flight 91 was a 1963 American human spaceflight mission, and the second and final flight in the program to achieve sub-orbital spaceflight: a flight over 100km in altitude. It was the first flight of a reused spacecraft, as plane number three flew the previous sub-orbital flight on July 19....

 (on 22 August 1963: 108 km).

Walker was the first American civilian to make any spaceflight, and the second civilian overall, preceded only by the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

's cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova is a retired Soviet cosmonaut, and was the first woman in space. She was selected out of more than four hundred applicants, and then out of five finalists, to pilot Vostok 6 on the 16 June, 1963, becoming both the first woman and the first civilian to fly in...

 one month earlier, and Walker became the first human being, civilian or not to fly into outer space on two occasions.

Walker flew at the fastest speed in the X-15A-1: 4,104 mph (Mach 5.92) during a flight on 27 June 1962 (the fastest flight in any of the three X-15s was about 4,520 mph (Mach 6.7) flown by William J. Knight
William J. Knight
William J. "Pete" Knight was a U.S. politician, combat pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. Knight holds the world's speed record for flight in a winged, powered aircraft...

 in 1967).

LLRV program

Walker also became the first test pilot of the Bell Lunar Landing Research Vehicle
Lunar Landing Research Vehicle
The Bell Aerosystems Lunar Landing Research Vehicle was an Apollo Project era program to build a simulator for the Moon landings. The LLRVs, humorously referred to as "flying bedsteads", were used by the FRC, now known as the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards Air Force Base,...

 (LLRV), which was used to develop piloting and operational techniques for lunar landings. On 30 October 1964, Walker took the LLRV on its maiden flight, reaching an altitude of about 10 ft and a total flight time of just under one minute. He piloted 35 LLRV flights in total. Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong
Neil Alden Armstrong is an American former astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor, United States Naval Aviator, and the first person to set foot upon the Moon....

 later flew this craft many times in preparation for the spaceflight
Spaceflight is the act of travelling into or through outer space. Spaceflight can occur with spacecraft which may, or may not, have humans on board. Examples of human spaceflight include the Russian Soyuz program, the U.S. Space shuttle program, as well as the ongoing International Space Station...

 of Apollo 11
Apollo 11
In early 1969, Bill Anders accepted a job with the National Space Council effective in August 1969 and announced his retirement as an astronaut. At that point Ken Mattingly was moved from the support crew into parallel training with Anders as backup Command Module Pilot in case Apollo 11 was...

 - the first manned landing on the Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

 - including crashing it once and barely escaping from it with his ejection seat.


Walker was killed on 8 June 1966, when his F-104 Starfighter chase aircraft collided with a North American XB-70 Valkyrie. Walker had been flying in a tight group formation for a publicity photo, and his F-104 drifted into contact with the XB-70's right wingtip, flipped over, and rolling inverted, passed over the top of the XB-70, struck the vertical stabilizers and left wing and exploded, destroying the Valkyrie's rudders and damaging its left wing. The careers of several Air Force colonels ended as a result of this aviation accident.

Honors and awards

Walker was a charter member and one of the first Fellows of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots
Society of Experimental Test Pilots
The Society of Experimental Test Pilots is an international organization that seeks to promote air safety and contributes to aeronautical advancement by promoting sound aeronautical design and development; interchanging ideas, thoughts and suggestions of the members, assisting in the professional...

. He received the Robert J. Collier Trophy
Collier Trophy
The Collier Trophy is an annual aviation award administered by the U.S. National Aeronautics Association , presented to those who have made "the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space...

, the Harmon International Trophy for Aviators
Harmon Trophy
The Harmon Trophy is a set of three international trophies, to be awarded annually to the world's outstanding aviator, aviatrix , and aeronaut...

, the Iven C. Kincheloe Award
Iven C. Kincheloe Award
The Iven C. Kincheloe Award recognizes outstanding professional accomplishment in the conduct of flight testing. It was established in 1958 by the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and honors the memory of test pilot and Korean War ace Iven C...

, and the Octave Chanute Award
Octave Chanute Award
This award was created in early 1902 by the Western Society of Engineers for papers of merit on engineering innovations. It is still awarded as of 2011. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc...

. His alma mater awarded him an honorary Doctor of Aeronautical Sciences degree in 1961. The National Pilots Association named him the Pilot of the Year in 1963.

Walker was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor
Aerospace Walk of Honor
The Aerospace Walk of Honor in Lancaster, California, USA, honors test pilots who have contributed to aviation and space research and development....

 in 1991, and the International Space Hall of Fame
International Space Hall of Fame
The New Mexico Museum of Space History is a museum and planetarium complex in Alamogordo, New Mexico, dedicated to artifacts and displays related to space flight and the space age. It includes the International Space Hall of Fame. The Museum of Space History highlights the role that New Mexico has...

 in 1995. Joe Walker Middle School in Quartz Hill, California
Quartz Hill, California
Quartz Hill is a census-designated place in Los Angeles County, California, United States. The population was 10,912 at the 2010 census, up from 9,890 at the 2000 census. The name is also shared with the neighboring district areas of its border cities, Palmdale, and Lancaster...

, is named in his honor as well as the Joe Walker Elementary
Joe Walker Elementary
Joe Walker Elementary School is a part of the McGuffey School District. This elementary school is located in Lagonda, Pennsylvania on Park Avenue...

School in Lagonda, Pennsylvania.

On 23 August 2005, NASA officially conferred on Walker his astronaut's wings, posthumously.

External links

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