Milburn G. Apt

Milburn G. Apt

April 9, 1924(1924-04-09) – September 27, 1956 (aged 32)

Captain Mel Apt in Bell X-2 1956.jpg
Captain Mel Apt in the cockpit of the Bell X-2



Place of birth

Buffalo, Kansas

Place of death

Edwards Air Force Base


 United States of America


Seal of the US Air Force.svg United States Air Force

Years of service

1941–56 (15 years)


US-O3 insignia.svg Captain

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Milburn G. “Mel” Apt (April 9, 1924 – September 27, 1956) was a US test pilot. He was killed in the destruction of the Bell X-2 during a test flight.

After having been launched from a B-50 bomber over the Mojave Desert in California, Capt. Milburn G. Apt (USAF), flying an X-2 rocket-powered plane on its 13th powered flight, set a record speed of 3,377 km/h, or Mach 3.196 at 19,977 m (65,541 ft). Subsequent loss of control from inertia coupling led to the breakup of the aircraft and the death of the pilot.

The X-2, initially an Air Force program, was scheduled to be transferred to the civilian National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) for scientific research. The Air Force delayed turning the aircraft over to the NACA in the hope of attaining Mach 3 in the airplane. The service requested and received a two-month extension to qualify another Air Force test pilot, Capt. Milburn “Mel” Apt, in the X-2 and attempt to exceed Mach 3.

In the run-up to his first rocket-plane flight, Apt had several ground briefings in the simulator. His simulator training had indicated control difficulties in high-speed flight, and possible techniques for handling them. On 27 September 1956, Apt made his first X-2 flight. Apt raced away from the B-50 under full power, quickly outdistancing the F-100 chase planes. At high altitude, he nosed over, accelerating rapidly. At 65,000 feet, the X-2 reached Mach 3.2 (2,094 mph) , making Apt the first man to fly more than three times the speed of sound. Upon rocket burnout, Apt found himself further from home than anticipated. The planned flight profile called for slowing to Mach 2.4 before turning back to base. The additional time to slow before turning may have put him beyond safe gliding range of his planned runway.

Still above Mach 3, he began a turn back to Edwards. The X-2 began a series of diverging rolls and tumbled out of control. Apt tried to regain control of the aircraft. Unable to do so, Apt separated the escape capsule. Too late, he attempted to bail out and was killed when the capsule hit the Edwards bombing range. The rest of the X-2 crashed five miles away.


  1. Black Magic and Gremlins; Analog Flight Simulations at NASA’s Flight Research Center by Gene L. Waltman NASA SP-2000-4520 pg 138

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