WILLIAM HARVEY “BILL” DANA

1930-

Bill Dana was the eleventh X-15 test pilot. He flew the X-15 sixteen times and was the pilot for the 199th flight, the last of the X-15 program.

Bill Dana was born in Pasadena, California, on November 3, 1930. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating with a bachelor of science degree in 1952. He satisfied his military commitment by serving as a pilot in the U. S. Air Force for four years, after which he attended the University of Southern California. At USC, he graduated with a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1958. He began his distinguished civilian career at the Dryden Flight Research Center on October 1, 1958.

This was the first day that NASA went into operation, and Dana proudly became NASA’s first employee. He was involved with the X-15 from that first day, initially as an engineer, then as a chase pilot, and finally as a project pilot. His first X-15 flight was on November 4, 1965, a checkout flight during which he reached Mach 4.22 and an altitude of 80,200 feet. At this point in the X-15 program, even the pilot checkout flights were relatively high – performance. This flight required two relights of the rocket engine. On October 4, 1967, Dana reached his highest speed, Mach 5.53, and on November 1, 1966, he achieved his highest altitude of 306,900 feet, one of two flights he made above 50 miles.

By the end of the X-15 program, Dana was just at the beginning of his distinguished career as a test pilot and aeronautical engineer. Building on his experience flying the X-15, he became a project pilot for NASA’s manned lifting body program, a precursor to the Space Shuttle. He completed one NASA M2-F1, nine Northrop HL-10, nineteen Northrop M2-F3, and two Martin Marietta X-24B flights, for a total of thirty-one lifting body missions. For this work, he received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.

In 1976, Dana received the Haley Space Flight Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. In 1986, he became the chief pilot at the Flight Research Center, and he then became the assistant chief of the Flight Operations Directorate. He continued to fly on several important research programs: the F-15 Highly Integrated Digital Electronic Control and the F-18 High Angle of Attack program. In August 1993, Dana became chief engineer of the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, and he held that position until his retirement in 1998.

After retirement, Dana began a distinguished second career by working as a contractor with the NASA Dryden History Office. He was honored by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in 1998 when he was selected to give the Charles A. Lindbergh Memorial Lecture, the most prestigious lecture at the museum. His lecture title was “A History of the X-15.” He still continues to lecture and write papers based on his experience in high-speed flight.

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