William H. “Bill” Dana, the famed NASA test pilot who helped usher in the space age in the 1960s by routinely flying rocket planes to new supersonic speeds and stratospheric heights, has died. He was 83.
Dana was a square-jawed aviator during an age when pilots strapped into cutting-edge aircraft and blasted it to the edges of the flight envelope — with little assurance they would return safely. It was an era chronicled in “The Right Stuff,” Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book (and later a movie) about the early days of the space program.
He died Tuesday after a lengthy illness at an assisted living facility in suburban Phoenix. His death was announced Wednesday by NASA officials.
Several of the aircraft Dana piloted now hang in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. However, he is perhaps most associated with the X-15 rocket plane program, which demonstrated it was possible for a winged aircraft to fly to — and from – space. It was a feat that came 19 years before the space shuttle.
After earning a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from USC in 1958, he joined NASA as an aeronautical research engineer at the High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base — now NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center – in the Mojave Desert.
[Source: Los Angeles Times]