Eagle Profile

Captain Joe H. Engle was first selected by Air Command and Staff College‚Äôs Gathering of Eagles in 1983 and subsequently honored in 1987, 1989, 1995, 1997, and 2001, respectively. 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 was enshrined into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. After retiring from the Air Force in 1986, he joined the Kansas Air National Guard (ANG) and as a major general served as ANG assistant to commanders at US Space Command in Colorado. Engle also worked as an engineering consultant and technical advisor on space vehicle and space station projects. He also served as NASAs Deputy for Independent Review of Operations for joint programs involving Russia’s Mir and for the international space station program.

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1983 Lithograph
1987 Lithograph
1989 Lithograph
1995 Lithograph
1997 Lithograph
2001 Lithograph

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The Columbia is the first reusable Spacecraft of its kind, and Colonel Joe Engle commanded the first relaunch of the vehicle. During the mission, he and fellow astronaut, Captain Richard Truly (USN), tested the capability of the shuttle to retrieve satellites for repair or return to earth. And they conducted the first unloading tests of the 50-foot remote manipulator arm designed to remove payloads from the orbiter bay. Although the duration of the mission was reduced from 5 days to 2 days because of a malfunctioning fuel cell, the crew accomplished 90 percent of its objectives.

Even though bad weather cancelled the launch on 26 August and appeared to be pulling an instant replay on 27 August 1985, STS-51I, with Colonel Engle in command, launched at 0658. In addition to orbiting three new communications satellites and running several experiments, the STS-51I mission plan included capturing, repairing, and redeploying the SYNCOM IV-3 communications satellite. No small feat, Colonel Engle and Pilot Richard O. Covey flew Discovery to within 35 feet of the inactive 15,400-pound satellite. While Engle maintained formation, Mission Specialist van Hoften, who was perched on the end of the manipulator arm, manually grappled the huge satellite. After repair in the payload bay, Engle again flew formation while van Hoften pushed the satellite out of the orbiter and applied several push impulses to spin and stabilize the unit. Ground control then deployed the satellite into its permanent orbit and function. This in-space capture, repair, and relaunch of the $85 million SYNCOM IV-3 satellite further demonstrated the value of the man-in-space program during one of the most amazing feats of modern history.

On 12 October 1977, at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB, California, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, with astronaut Joe Engle in command, was poised for its fourth free flight from the NASA Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, piloted by "Fitz" Fulton. Adding uncertainty and danger to this particular portion of the shuttle approach and landing tests, engineers had removed the streamlined tailcone from the Enterprise and exposed three dummy rocket engines. In the absence of the shuttle's tailcone, it was uncertain if Fulton and his crew could withstand the buffeting and noise created by the shuttle's high drag configuration. Without this critical test, the shuttle's first landing in this configuration would have been on return from its first space mission. Separating from Fulton's 747 at 25,000 feet, 2 minutes and 34 seconds later, Engle landed the Enterprise precisely as planned on the dry-lake runway at Edwards AFB. Fulton and Engle had flawlessly accomplished the complex flight profile and the mission was a total success. Aerodynamic buffeting on the 747 did not prove to be a major problem, and removal of the tailcone did not dramatically change the shuttle's approach and landing performance.

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.

In 1959, Lieutenant Joe Engle went from flight school to flying the Air Forces first fighter capable of sustained supersonic speed in level flight, the North American F-100 Super Sabre. The Hun was a hot jet and at George AFB, California, he quickly mastered it and honed his skills. When Engle was selected to attend USAF Test Pilot School, he was on his way to flying machines that would carry him into space and to speeds up to Mach 25. The Super Sabre was a first step for Engle and many pilots who advanced aerospace power well into the 1990s!

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.