July 29, 1971: X-24A Flight Test Program

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  • NASA

The Martin Marietta X-24A lifting body completed its flight test program. It was then converted to a different shape with the X-24B designation.

The X-24 was one of a group of lifting bodies flown by the National Aeronautics Space Administration Flight Research Center in a joint program with the U.S. Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California from 1963 to 1975. The lifting bodies were used to demonstrate the ability of pilots to maneuver and safely land wingless vehicles designed to fly back to Earth from space and be landed like an airplane at a predetermined site.  Lifting bodies’ aerodynamic lift, essential to flight in the atmosphere, was obtained from their shape. The addition of fins and control surfaces allowed the pilots to stabilize and control the vehicles and regulate their flight paths.  The X-24 was built by Martin Marietta and flown from Edwards AFB, California. The X-24A was the fourth lifting body design to fly; it followed the NASA M2-F1 in 1964, the Northrop HL-10, the Northrop M2-F2 in 1966 and preceded the Northrop M2-F3.

The X-24A was a fat, short teardrop shape with vertical fins for control. It made its first, unpowered, glide flight on April 17, 1969 with Air Force Maj. Jerauld R. Gentry at the controls. Gentry also piloted its first powered flight on March 19, 1970. The craft was taken to around 45,000 feet (13.7 km) by a modified B-52 and then drop launched, then either glided down or used its rocket engine to ascend to higher altitudes before gliding down. The X-24A was flown 28 times at speeds up to 1,036 mph (1,667 km/h) and altitudes up to 71,400 feet (21.8 km).  The X-24B's design evolved from a family of potential reentry shapes, each with higher lift-to-drag ratios, proposed by the Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory. To reduce the costs of constructing a research vehicle, the Air Force returned the X-24A to the Martin Marietta Corporation (as Martin Aircraft Company became after a merger) for modifications that converted its bulbous shape into one resembling a "flying flatiron"—rounded top, flat bottom, and a double delta platform that ended in a pointed nose.  First to fly the X-24B was John Manke, a glide flight on 1 August 1973. He was also the pilot on the first powered mission November 15, 1973.

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