Space Autograph of the Week Topic 7: John Manke
John Manke, a NASA research test pilot, flew 42 flights in the lifting body aircraft, more than any other test pilot.
Manke was born in Selby, South Dakota on November. 13, 1931, He attended the University of South Dakota before joining the U.S. Navy in 1951. He earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and served as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps. After leaving the U.S. Marine Corps in 1960, he worked for Honeywell Corporation as a test engineer for two years before joining NASA in May 1962, as a flight research engineer at NASA’s Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB, California (the Flight Research Center was later renamed to Hugh Dryden Research Center). He was later assigned to the pilots' office and flew various support aircraft including the F-104, F5D, F-111 and C-47 before beginning research flights in the wingless lifting bodies in 1968. While flying the HL-10, M2-F3 and the X-24-A and X-24B he flew 42 flights.
These wingless lifting body aircraft demonstrated the ability to maneuver and safely land a vehicle with a shape that was designed for space flight. The research provided data and flight techniques used for the design of space shuttle. Among his lifting body credits were making the first supersonic flight in a lifting body on November 15, 1973 and the first landing of a lifting body on a hard-surface runway. That precision landing of the X-24B on August 5, 1975 proved that a low lift-to-drag aircraft could be flown to a precise landing. This landing led space shuttle designers to eliminate plans to incorporate auxiliary jet engines on the shuttle to aid landing approaches.
Manke would later serve as Chief of Flight Operations at NASA Dryden Research Center responsible for conducting aeronautical flight research with some of the most advanced aircraft in the country until his retirement from NASA in April 1984.
The cover shown above is for the first powered flight of the X-24B on November 15, 1973. The cachet is a “NASA Rubber Stamp Cachet” as it was applied by NASA personnel to covers sent to the NASA Flight Research Center for the X-24B flights. The color of the cachet changed for the various flights.