Joe Engle was born in Abilene, Kansas, and attended the University of Kansas where he
graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1955. Commissioned
through the Air Force ROTC program, he earned his pilot's wings in 1958 and was
assigned to fly F-100s for the 474th Fighter Day Squadron and, later, the 309th
Tactical Fighter Squadron at George AFB, California.
Although in command of another squadron,
then-Lt. Col. Chuck Yeager had frequent opportunities to fly with Engle -- and against
him in mock dogfights -- and he was extremely impressed by the young fighter pilot's
attitude and ability. When Engle applied for admission to the USAF Test Pilot School
at Edwards, Yeager recommended his selection. By the time he graduated from the
school in 1962, Yeager had become the commandant and, because he considered
Engle "one of the sharpest pilots we had in the program," he immediately selected him
for admission to the new Aerospace Research Pilot School (ARPS) which was being
established at Edwards to train military astronauts. He graduated from ARPS in 1963
and was selected as a project pilot for the X-15 program. He completed 16 flights
in the rocket-powered hypersonic airplane, exceeding Mach 5 on ten of those flights
and attaining a top speed of Mach 5.71 (3,886 mph). In June of 1965, he also climbed
to an altitude of 280,600 feet and thereby became one of only eight pilots-all from
the X-15 program-who have qualified for astronaut's wings by flying
an airplane into space. He went on to exceed the Air Force's 50-mile threshold for
astronaut rating on two subsequent X-15 flights.
At 32, he was the youngest man to
become an astronaut. When NASA selected him as one of 19 new astronaut candidates in
1966, he was truly in an unusual position; he was the only one who had already
engaged in spaceflight operations. First assigned to the Apollo program, he served
on the support crew for Apollo X and then as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo XIV.
In 1977, he was commander of one of two crews who were launched from atop a
modified Boeing 747 in order to conduct approach and landing tests with the Space
Shuttle Enterprise. Then in November 1981, he commanded the second flight of
the Shuttle Columbia and manually flew the re-entry-performing 29 flight
test maneuvers-from Mach 25 through landing roll out. This was the first and,
so far, only time that a winged aerospace vehicle has been manually flown from
orbit through landing. He accumulated the last of his 224 hours in space when
he commanded the Shuttle Discovery during Mission 51-I in August of 1985.
Now retired from NASA, the Air Force and the Kansas Air National Guard, he
currently serves as an engineering consultant and simulation evaluation pilot for
Space Shuttle modifications and other advanced piloted re-entry vehicles. Joe Engle
holds the unique distinction of being the only astronaut to have flown two entirely
different winged vehicles-the X-15 and the Space Shuttle-into space.
He has flown more than 180 different aircraft types and logged nearly 14,000 flight
hours. His military decorations include the Department of Defense Distinguished
Service Medal, USAF Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross
with Oak Leaf Cluster. Among his many honors, he has been awarded the NASA
Distinguished Service Medal and Space Flight Medal, as well as the Harmon International,
Collier, Lawrence Sperry, Iven C. Kinchloe, Robert H. Goddard and Thomas D. White
aviation and space trophies. In 1992, he was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor.
Written by Air Force Flight Test Center Chief Historian James Young