Gathering of Eagles Foundation

Honored as an Eagle in:

1983 1987 1989 1995 1997 2001

Eagle Biography

Joe H. Engle

Captain Joe H. Engle became America's youngest astronaut on 29 June 1965, at age 32, after piloting his X-15 research aircraft to an altitude of 280,600 feet. Born in Abilene, Kansas, Engle graduated from the University of Kansas in 1955 with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Commissioned through AFROTC, Engle went on to graduate from pilot training in 1958 and fly North American F-100 Super Sabres with the 474th Fighter Day Squadron and the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron at George AFB, California. He graduated from the USAF Experimental Test Pilot School in 1961, and, after a brief tour with the Fighter Test Branch at Edwards AFB, California, was selected for the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School.

After graduating from that school in 1962, he went directly into the elite X-15 program. With three of his sixteen X-15 flights exceeding an altitude of 50 miles, qualifying him for astronaut wings, Engle became the Air Force's first and only "slick wing" astronaut-pilot. In 1966 he was selected for space operations with NASA. He served on the support crew for Apollo X and was named backup lunar module pilot for Apollo XIV. In 1977 Engle was selected to conduct approach and landing tests in the Space Shuttle Enterprise.

On 12 November 1981, he commanded Space Transportation System (STS)-2 and manually flew the Shuttle Columbia from space at Mach 25 to landing, a feat never repeated, while performing flight test maneuvers to explore the shuttle's aero-thermodynamic characteristics. With STS-2, Engle saw the fruits of his early X-15 test efforts incorporated into the shuttle design, and became the only pilot in the world to manually fly two different winged vehicles to and from space.

He was then selected to command the Shuttle Discovery in August 1985 for STS-51I, the most aggressive and challenging shuttle mission to date. During STS-51I, after deploying three new communication satellites, the crew manually captured, repaired, and redeployed the 15,000-pound SYNCOM IV-3 satellite. Engle has flown over 185 different types of aircraft, including 41 different fighter and attack aircraft, and has logged more than 14,850 hours-10,800 in jets and 224 in space.

He is a holder of the Harmon International, Collier, Kincheloe, Goddard, and White aviation and space trophies, and in July 2001 will be enshrined into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Having retired from NASA, the USAF, and the Air National Guard as a major general, Engle continues to serve as an engineering consultant and technical advisor on space related projects for NASA and still flies active duty fighter aircraft with the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California. He and his wife of 44 years, Mary, reside in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

See the Lithograph
Lithograph Setting

For winged reentry vehicles to become a reality, control from space to atmospheric flight had to be developed. On 29 June 1965, Joe Engle takes his X-15 to an altitude of 280,600 feet, qualifying him as our nation's youngest astronaut and the only "slick wing" USAF pilot ever to earn astronaut wings. Sixteen years later, with his ownX-15 test results incorporated into shuttle design Engle will manually fly the Shuttle Columbia from reentry to touchdown and become the only pilot in the world to fly two different winged aircraft into space and back.

Archives By Year