When it came time for his first day at Edwards Air Force Base, Neil Armstrong was introduced to some of his first assignments in flying. He got a chance to pilot chase planes slated for drops that involved experimental aircraft. He manned converted bombers. It was at this time (March 22, 1956) that he encountered his first flight blunder at Edwards. Situated in the right-hand seat, Armstrong was put in charge of the payload release, while the left-hand seat commander (Stan Butchart) was in charge of flying the B-29.
Upon ascension to reach 30,000 ft into the air, the number four engine stopped working. The propeller started to windmill in the airstream. Butchart reacted by activating a switch to stop the propeller from spinning. This forced the propeller to slow, but it started to spin once more. However, it was faster than before and greatly exceeded the remaining engines. Spinning too fast meant that it would simply fly apart.
A dilemma ensued as the aircraft needed to keep an airspeed of 210 miles per hour in order to launch the Skyrocket payload. Also, the B-29 would not be able to land if the Skyrocket was still connected to its underside. The two airmen nosed the aircraft down in an attempt to increase speed. They were able to launch the Skyrocket.
Instantly, the launch caused the number four engine propeller to completely disintegrate. Pieces of it came in contact with the number three engine, as well as the number two. The damage was so extensively that Armstrong and Butchart had no choice but to stop the number three engine. The number one engine was also shut down. Slowly, the two circled until they were able to land safely. During their descent from 30,000 feet in the sky, the aircraft was working with only the number two engine.
When it came time for Armstrong to take his first flight in a rocket plane, it was August 15th, 1957. Reaching an altitude of 11.4 miles, Armstrong traveled in the Bell X , 1B. During the landing, he broke the nose landing gear. However, this was to be expected because it occurred around 12 previous flights of the aircraft because of the way it was designed. Another rocket plane that Armstrong had the pleasure of flying was the North American X-15, which took place on November 30th, 1960. This time, the aircraft reached a top altitude of 48,840 feet, as well as a top speed of Mach 1.75 , the equivalent of 1,150 miles per hour.
In the next article in this Neil Armstrong series, you will learn details about his adventure to the Moon, which involved the first walk on the Moon , a feat that has forever entered him in the history books for astronauts and space exploration.