CAP Remembers Inspiring Pioneer in Aviation on National Aviation Day
A. Scott Crossfield is pictured with the North American X-15 No. 1 at the North American Aviation Plant in Los Angeles in October 1958. (Source: Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum)
by Capt. Brandon Lunsford, CAP, Oklahoma Wing
TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla (August 19, 2021) – A. Scott Crossfield was born Oct. 2, 1921, in Berkeley, California. He took his first flight at age 6 in an oil company airplane, an experience that hooked him on aviation for life. He began flying lessons at 12, in return for delivering newspapers at the Wilmington airport. By the time he graduated from high school, he had resolved to emulate such famous test pilots as Jimmy Doolittle and Boeing’s Eddie Allen.
“Some people like to race cars; some people like to go in boats. Well, I like to go in airplanes,” he told the Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Journal in 2003. “And it was my generation’s thing to do.”
During World War II he was a fighter pilot and fighter gunnery instructor in the U.S. Navy. In 1950, he joined NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and was a research pilot at the High-Speed Flight Research Station in Edwards, California. There he was the test pilot for numerous research aircraft. On Nov. 20, 1953, he became the first pilot to fly faster than Mach 2.
While at Edwards, Crossfield helped design the first full-pressure flight suit, which evolved into the pressure suits used by military pilots and NASA astronauts. In 1955 he joined North American Aviation as a pilot and design consultant on the X-15. Among his awards were the Collier Trophy (presented by President John F. Kennedy) from the National Aeronautics Association, the Harmon Trophy (also presented by Kennedy) and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal.
In 1963, Crossfield was one of the charter inductees to the Aerospace Hall of Fame. In 1983, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame and was presented with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Trophy for Lifetime Achievement in 2000.
“I am given a lot more credit and notoriety for the X-15 than I really deserve,” he told Aviation Week & Space Technology in 1988. “The X-15 was a natural extension of the research airplane program in our quest for higher productivity, higher speeds and know-how to get into space. In fact, the X-15, as we saw it, was a prelude to going into space.”
Crossfield was a colonel in Civil Air Patrol, having joined in 1987 and established the CAP A. Scott Crossfield Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year Award. As part of its Aerospace Education Member program CAP offers teachers the ability to take orientation flights with an experienced CAP pilot. Like the training flights cadets receive, this program includes a preflight briefing, an actual airplane flight, and educational applications to share with students.
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About Civil Air Patrol
Now celebrating its 80th year, Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and as such is a member of its Total Force. In its auxiliary role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 single-engine Cessna aircraft and more than 2,000 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) and performs about 90% of all search and rescue operations within the contiguous United States as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Often using innovative cellphone forensics and radar analysis software, CAP was credited by the AFRCC with saving 130 lives during the past fiscal year. CAP’s 60,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. As a nonprofit organization, CAP plays a leading role in aerospace education using national academic standards-based STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Members also serve as mentors to 24,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs.