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Toward Mach 2: the Douglas D-558 Program — review

27 February 2012

Toward Mach 2: the Douglas D-558 Program — review

A symposium was held in 1998 on the D-558 Program which generated a book. The book is entitled Toward Mach 2: the Douglas D-558 Program, February 4, 1998, J.D. Hunley (ed.), NASA SP: 4222, 1999, 161 pp. and can be downloaded as a PDF document from here (a 22Mb file).

This is the record of a conference held to recount the unheralded but incredibly historic D-558 Program run by the U.S. Navy and the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. Originally planned for three phases: the first used produced the turbojet tiny straight winged Skystreak (D-558-1), the second used the rocket powered small swept winged Skyrocket (D-558-2), the third phase was canceled but data collected from the program was significant in the design of the North American X-15.

But have we not heard about them? We know about the Bell X-1, don’t we? The Skystreak and Skyrocket were contemporaries of the X-1, weren’t they?

So, what gives?

Well, I don’t know but I suspect the media and media relations. The media focuses on single things like the firsts and the loudest, not necessarily things that involve thought or overview too often. The USAF media relations were also more active, I think, than the Navy’s efforts.

The X-1 was the faster than the Skystreak but not the Skyrocket — the Skyrocket was first to Mach 2, after all. The Douglas aircraft had the all moving tail and, just as importantly for military aircraft, tested designs of wing mounted stores — all in use, today, decades later.

This publication explains the above but also so much more. Like:

  • Getting out of the aircraft in an emergency — yeah, sure :p
  • Design of the braking a parachute and how its first use looked like Wile E. Coyote using an ACME product
  • That a propeller can overspeed and cut clear through the fuselage — the airmanship required to land and save the crew was humbling to learn
  • Our first pressure suits were sewn in the home
  • How to fly without instruments under an iced over canopy
  • Insightful comments by five of the people heavily involved in the program give detail found not usually found.

This publication is an exciting read about a portion of  those heady days in supersonic flight research with its strange mix of high tech and garage mechanics.

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Images of the Skystreak and Skyrocket are in other posts. You can easily see them by pasting their names in the search window and selecting ENTER.

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