WASHINGTON, Apr 20 (Reuters) Scott Crossfield, a pioneer test pilot who was the first to fly at twice the speed of sound, died when his single-engine plane crashed in Georgia, the Civil Air Patrol reported today.
Crossfield, 84, was flying from Alabama to Virginia when his plane disappeared from radar yesterday. The air patrol's Georgia Wing located the wreckage of the plane and confirmed the death in a statement today. NASA also noted the death on its Web site, www.nasa.gov.
One of the titans of test flight, Crossfield made aeronautical history on November. 20, 1953, when he reached a speed of Mach 2 -- twice the speed of sound, more than 1,320 miles (2,124 km) an hour -- in a D-558-II Skyrocket aircraft.
''He furthered aviation and he furthered aerospace. I think any of us who are pilots owe him a lot,'' said Capt. Paige Joyner of the Georgia Civil Air Patrol, which helped find the wreckage. ''This guy was a pioneer. Just look at the aircraft he flew. Quite amazing.'' Between 1950 and 1955, Crossfield flew the X-1, X-4, X-5, XF-92A, and D-558-I and -II aircraft.
He made these flights as a test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the forerunner of NASA, where he was one of the so-called ''right stuff'' pilots based at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Another legendary pilot in the group, Chuck Yeager, was the first to fly faster than the speed of sound in the X-1 on October. 14, 1947.
Crossfield left NACA in 1955 to work at North American Aviation on the X-15 rocket-powered airplane, where he was responsible for many of the new aircraft's safety features.
He eventually flew the X-15 to an altitude of more than 88,000 feet (26,820 metres), and a speed of 1,960 miles (3,154 km) an hour, nearly three times the speed of sound.
More recently, Crossfield was a technical adviser for the Countdown to Kitty Hawk project, which built and flew an exact reproduction of the 1903 Wright flyer. The original Wright flyer was flown by the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.
The reproduction of the Wright flyer was present at the national centennial of flight celebration at Kitty Hawk in December 2003.
Born in California in 1921, Crossfield attended the University of Washington and served in the Navy during World War Two before joining NACA.
The wreckage of Crossfield's plane was spotted by airborne searchers in a heavily wooded area inaccessible by road in Gilmer County, Georgia, Joyner said. He was the only one on board the six-seat aircraft.
As of his 81st birthday, he was still flying 200 hours a year, she said.
REUTERS SC PM0200