“Paul Bikle wasn’t for canceling programs when they got tough,” Dana continues, “and so he said we’re going to fly one more year, one more calendar year, and that was 1968, and that was what we flew—we flew eight flights in 1968, and that was the end of the road.”
Bill Dana was the pilot on the last of the X-15’s 199 flights. Freakish weather, including a snowstorm, frustrated several attempts to make it a round 200 before the program ended.
Today the first X-15 hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum; the second X-15, the fastest airplane ever flown, is at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
It would be difficult to overstate the X-15’s importance in the history of flight. It is the keystone of the bridge between Earth and space. It was, in a way, the ultimate airplane: No other airplane has ever approached its performance, or needed to. The X-15—a simple, direct, straightforward machine in the classical tradition of aeronautical engineering—had leaned on the door to hypersonic flight, and the door had swung open. After the X-15 came spacecraft and computers—and a new and alien era in flight.