Martin X-24B

The X-24B aircraft showed that a “lifting body” could glide through the atmosphere and make a precise landing on a runway like an airplane. A lifting body is a fixed-wing air or spacecraft in which the body itself produces lift. X-24 studies supported space shuttle development in the early 1970s. The U.S. Air Force, NASA and Martin Aircraft (now Lockheed Martin) heavily modified the X-24A to make a higher-performing vehicle, the X-24B.

The X-24B’s flat bottom and long nose added surface area to improve gliding qualities, increasing range and maneuverability. It flew 36 times between 1973 and 1975, making 12 gliding-only flights and 24 powered flights with gliding landings. In all its flights, a NASA modified B-52 “mothership” launched the X-24B at 45,000 feet.

In powered flights, a rocket engine accelerated the X-24B to more than 1,000 mph as it climbed to altitudes around 60,000-70,000 feet. The X-24B then made steep unpowered gliding landings like the future space shuttle. Highlights of the X-24B research program included two precise landings made on a concrete runway at Edwards AFB, Calif. (other flights landed on nearby dry lake beds). This ability to glide to a landing at a specific spot was an important step toward later space shuttle operations. The X-24B was the last joint USAF/NASA rocket-powered air-launched research aircraft.


Engines: One Reaction Motors XLR-11 rocket of 9,800 lbs. thrust; two Bell LLRV optional landing rockets of 500 lbs. thrust each
Maximum speed: 1,164 mph (Mach 1.76)
Ceiling: 74,100 feet

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