August 7, 2011


Arthur Murray, Test Pilot, Is Dead at 92 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, August 4, 2011, NY Times)

It was May 28, 1954, and Maj. Arthur Murray, test pilot, would wrestle for the next 15 terrifying seconds with a rocket plane racing over 1,400 miles an hour and spinning wildly, supersonically out of control. In the turmoil, he would fly higher than any human being had ever been, 90,440 feet over the earth.

Finally, Major Murray's plane, a Bell X-1A, sank back into heavier air, and he had time to look at the dark blue sky and dazzling sunlight. He became the first human to see the curvature of the earth. At the time, he was called America's first space pilot. [...]

Mr. Wolfe wrote of how a plane at supersonic speed and high altitude could "skid into a flat spin like a cereal bowl on a Formica counter." That left a pilot only one question, he added: "What do I do next?"

That was exactly the experience Mr. Murray described in The Saturday Evening Post in 1955, an experience he shared with the legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager, who flew a chase plane behind Major Murray when he broke the altitude record.

Mr. Yeager started the space race when be broke the sound barrier on Oct. 14, 1947. In 1957, the Soviet Union would put the first satellite in orbit, and in 1961 it sent the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the world. Alan B. Shepard Jr., a test pilot, became the first American in space in 1961. The next year, John Glenn, another test pilot, was the first orbiting American.

Major Murray's many test flights, including 14 in the Bell X-1A, helped build the foundation for America's exploration of the heavens. He further contributed as manager of the Air Force's program to develop the X-15, a more advanced rocket plane, from 1958 to 1960. Two X-15 flights exceeded 100 kilometers in altitude, meeting the international definition of space flight. [...]

The last thing Mr. Murray's wife told him before he left for the edge of outer space was to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home. He remembered.

Posted by at August 7, 2011 6:41 PM

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