Famed Test Pilot Dead at 84

Scott Crossfield, the legendary civilian test pilot who was the first man to fly at twice the speed of sound, died at the controls of his single-engine Cessna on Wednesday flying back from Atlanta to his home in Virginia. The aircraft crashed in mountains about 50 miles northwest of Atlanta during thunderstorms. Born in October 1921, Crossfield left college in 1942 to join the Navy, where he flew a variety of aircraft and served as an instructor pilot. After World War II, and completion of a bachelor’s in aeronautical engineering and master’s in aeronautical science, Crossfield joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (predecessor to NASA) as a research pilot. Over the next five years, he flew all manner of X aircraft, including the D-558-II Skyrocket for his record-setting flight on Nov. 20, 1953, when he surpassed Mach 2. He left NACA to work at North American Aviation, helping develop and test fly the X-15 rocket-powered airplane. Crossfield downplayed the aura surrounding test pilots, and in a 1988 interview, he called test pilots “just people who incidentally do flight tests. … The opportunity to be a test pilot … is there for all.” (Read his NASA bio here and one from Edwards AFB, Calif., here.)