Skip to content

The Crimson Test Tube — Douglas’s D-558-1 Skystreak

10 August 2011

The Crimson Test Tube — Douglas’s D-558-1 Skystreak

Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak — photo by Joseph May

This Douglas aircraft flew as a contemporary of the Bell X-1. While the X-1 made history as the first aircraft to fly faster than Mach 1 after being carried aloft by a mothership and powered by a rocket engine — the Skystreak took off under its own power, a turbojet engine, to investigate the high subsonic and transonic flight regime. It  is an aircraft that had simple lines but complicated wing and fuselage construction. The fuselage was clad in magnesium sheeting and resulting in only the most careful of ground handling being standard. There is only enough fuselage to house the pilot and engine with only enough wing to fly — the fuel supply was also limited so that flights were measured in minutes, not hours. The wing’s construction was complicated by its thinness, having 400 pressure orifices while also carrying the fuel in tip tanks. Originally painted red, and nicknamed the “crimson test tube”, it was later painted white as this color better enabled optical tracking.  The control surfaces remained red since repainting them white to match with the rest of the aircraft risked unbalanced forces — a reminder that this slip of an aircraft was purpose-built to live at the edge of its flight envelope and not within it. The example in this post is exhibited in the National Naval Aviation Museum* in Pensacola FL.

The Skystreak as exhibited in the National Naval Aviation Museum — photo by Joseph May

The pilot’s feet were just behind the retracted nose gear and visibility was not high on the list of characteristics — photo by Joseph May

Douglas later evolved the Skystreak into the Skyrocket to fly fast — Mach 2. The airframe and wings were the same construction but the wings were swept, it was rocket powered and carried aloft by a mothership.

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.

Here is the Douglas D-558 Skystreak page at the National Naval Aviation Museum web site.

* a post about visiting the National Naval Aviation Museum as well as exhibits there can easily be seen by pasting the name in the search window and selecting ENTER

Advertisements
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: