Space Cover #196: Joe Walker
Fifty years ago this week, NASA X-15 pilot Joe Walker became the first civilian pilot to break the (then) arbitrary 50 mile high boundary of spaceflight, as shown above. This is a Boy Scout Rubber-Stamped Cachet cover, hand canceled at Edwards AFB on the date of Walker’s flight, January 17, 1963. He performed this mission in X-15 #3, reaching approximately 51 miles in altitude on this 9 minute, 44 second flight.
Joe Walker was a decorated World War II P-38 Lightning fighter pilot when he went to work for NACA (NASA’s predecessor) in March, 1945. He flew many of the early rocketplanes over Edwards AFB: X-1, X-1A, X-1E, and the D-558-II Skyrocket. The postcard below was postmarked at nearby Mojave, CA on the date of one of Walker’s X-1E flights, September 19, 1957 (unfortunately it was double-postmarked so the cancellation is difficult to read).
Walker flew 25 missions in the X-15, commencing on March 25, 1960. Three covers were known to have actually been carried on this flight, and I believe one of our fellow SCOTW’ers has one. Perhaps he can post an image of his as a reply…
Joe Walker exceeded 50 miles altitude three times on January 17, July 19, and August 22, 1963. The latter mission set the all-time X-15 altitude record of 67 miles and was also Walker’s last X-15 flight (Boy Scout cachet with erroneous altitude notation, machine canceled at EAFB August 22, autographed by Walker below).
After this flight Walker went on to a variety of duties at Edwards, including the first test flights of the spider-shaped Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) that ultimately was used to train the Apollo astronauts to land on the moon. This cover was machine canceled at Edwards, Ca on the date of one of Walker’s LLRV flights, March 2, 1965.
One of Walker's more "routine" duties at Edwards came on June 8, 1966, when he flew a F-104 Starfighter jet in formation with a XB-70 Valkyrie experimental jet bomber for a photo opportunity. Joe Walker’s plane ended up colliding with the XB-70, and he was immediately killed in the collision. The XB-70 ended up crashing with pilot Al White successfully ejecting, but with co-pilot Carl Cross also being killed. Below is the XB-70 rubber stamped cachet cover, machine canceled at Edwards, Ca. on the day of Joe Walker’s fatal accident...
NASA posthumously awarded Joe Walker a set of Astronaut Wings in 2005.