Joe H. Engle is completely at home in an airplane, whether it's the cockpit of an orbiting Shuttle, the X-15 at Mach 6, an F-16 pulling 9 "Gs," a P-40 performing at airshows, or his own Piper L-4 Cub. Born in Abilene, Kansas, he attended the University of Kansas, graduating in 1955 with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Commissioned through Air Force ROTC, Engle earned his pilot's wings in 1958 and flew North American F-100 Super Sabres with the 474th Fighter Day Squadron and the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron, George AFB, California.
He graduated from the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School in 1961 and the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School in 1962. Transferring to the Fighter Test Branch at Edwards AFB, California, he flew numerous fighter test projects. In 1966, Engle was selected as 1 of 19 astronaut candidates by NASA, and was the first and only astronaut recruit to have previously flown in space--in the X-15. First assigned to the Apollo program, he served on the support crew for Apollo X and was named backup lunar module pilot for Apollo XIV . Later assigned to the Space Shuttle program, Engle was one of four astronauts selected to conduct approach and landing tests.
Returning to space 12 November 1981 in command of Space Transportation System (STS)-2, he manually flew Columbia from space through reentry, performing flight test maneuvers throughout the entire approach to explore the shuttle's aerodynamic characteristics. This event marked the first and only time a winged aerospace vehicle has been manually flown from reentry (Mach 25) to landing. Engle next served as the Deputy Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight at NASA Headquarters. Returning in 1983 to flight status at the Johnson Space Center, he flew in August 1985 as commander of an action-packed mission in the Discovery. During STS-51, the crew not only captured, repaired, and redeployed the SYNCOM IV-3 satellite, but also deployed three new communication satellites.
Engle's varied NASA experience proved invaluable during the Challenger accident investigation and subsequent Shuttle Improvement Program. Engle has flown over 175 different types of aircraft including 37 different fighter and attack aircraft and has logged more than 13,650 hours-9,700 in jets and 224 in space. He is the holder of the Harmon International, Collier, Kincheloe, Goddard and White aviation and space trophies. Retired from NASA, the USAF and the Air National Guard as a major general, Engle currently serves as an engineering consultant and simulation evaluation pilot for the Space Shuttle.
In 1965, media attention was focused on recent space flights. But if future maneuverable, winged reentry and conventional landings were to become reality, we had to develop a flight control system capable of transitioning from space to atmospheric flight. On 4 October l965, Captain Engle's X-15 reached an altitude of 266,500 feet and a speed of Mach 5.08 (3,554 mph). After this, his third "space" flight and the last of 16 flights he would make in the X-15, he qualified as our nation's youngest astronaut at age 32.