NASA HISTORY: U.S. Air Force Captain Joe Engle Becomes Youngest Pilot To Become An Astronaut

By  //  June 30, 2016

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U.S. Air Force Captain Joe Engle

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On June 29, 1965, then-U.S. Air Force Captain Joe Engle became the youngest pilot (at age 32) ever to qualify to be an astronaut. (NASA Image)

(NASA) – On June 29, 1965, then-U.S. Air Force Captain Joe Engle became the youngest pilot (at age 32) ever to qualify to be an astronaut.

At the time, the Kansas native was one of the two Air Force pilots assigned to fly the X-15 rocket plane at Edwards Air Force Base.

On this day in 1965 he flew the X-15 to an altitude of 280,600 feet (just over 53 miles).

For the purposes of awarding astronaut wings the U.S. Department of Defense used the 50 mile altitude mark so Captain Engle earned his astronaut wings this day (and surpassed that requirement 2 other times in his 16 flights in the X-15).

The next spring (March 1966) Engle was selected for the NASA astronaut corps. He served as Lunar Module Pilot backup for Apollo 14, and was in the rotation to fly to the Moon, but lost his chance due to cancellation of the last 3 Apollo missions (Apollo 18, 19 & 20).

In 1977, he flew Space Shuttle Enterprise during the Approach and Landing Tests at Edwards Air Force Base.

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He returned to space on the Shuttle twice – flying Columbia on STS-2 and Discovery on STS-51I. Retired from the Air Force at the rank of Major General (2 stars), Engle flew over 185 different types of aircraft including 38 different fighter and attack aircraft during his career.

He logged more than 14,700 flight hours, including over 224 hours in space.

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