North American Aviation ... Bombers and Rocket Plane
Another new product at North American was the T-39 Sabreliner, which evolved into the only successful commercial airplane program developed by the company. A twin-jet, multipurpose aircraft, the Sabreliner was designated as the T-39 trainer by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy and sold commercially as an executive aircraft.
Four other advanced aeronautical projects had their beginnings in 1954. One was for a Mach 2 Air Force fighter to extend the Sabre family. A second was for a future Navy weapon system called NAGPAW (North American General Purpose Attack Weapon). The third was a conceptual study of a super bomber of the future, and the fourth was the proposal to build a rocket research airplane to study hypersonic and space flight regimes.
The Mach 2 fighter became the F-107 aircraft, which exceeded Mach 2 in early test flights in 1956. The NAGPAW concept evolved into the A-5 Vigilante, which was first flown in 1958. The super bomber became the XB-70 program, and the rocket research plane became the X-15. These new airplanes would be flying into the thermodynamic barrier where frictional heat on their surfaces would be too severe for common aircraft metals. A complete new technology of aircraft systems and structures was necessary for surviving the trisonic -- and beyond -- flight environment.
Because the X-15 rocket research aircraft had a pilot-in-the-loop, "human systems" analysis was well under way. The X-15 pointed to near-space and was intended as an early test platform for human-in-space programs to follow.
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