Space Cover #278: The MX-324 – America's First Manned Rocketplane
So, you may ask, "What does some cover postmarked in Ithaca, NY on July 24, 1944 have to do with space covers?" Well, the answer lies in the backstamped postmark (below), applied on July 26, 1944 at the arrival point, Muroc CA., which was the Army Air Force testing base that later became the better-known Edwards Air Force Base.
On July 26, 1944, the Northrop MX-324 flying wing prototype, piloted by Northrop test pilot Harry Crosby, made its' seventh-and-final rocket-powered flight.
The MX-324 (pictured above, Crosby in civilian clothes) was a small wooden prototype of Jack Northrop's flying wing concept. Flight tests at Muroc consisted of the MX-324 (and its' cousin, the MX-334) being towed to altitude by a P-38 fighter plane, then being released to glide to a landing on the dry lakebed. The Northrop team needed "more power" (sounds like a mid-'90's American comedy show, eh?). So they added in a tiny 200 pound thrust rocket engine to the airframe that actually sat between the prone-laying pilot's legs (and yes, Tim the Toolman would have plenty to say about the latter!).
The MX-324 and MX-334 had flown numerous glide flights before adding a rocket engine to the MX-324. The MX-324 became the first manned American rocketplane with its first rocket flight on July 5, 1944 at Muroc. It flew six more times under rocket power at Muroc on July 11, 12, 14, 18, 25, and 26 (the cover above).
I've been hunting for 30 years for more Muroc postmarks on the days of MX-324 rocket flights, and this is the only one I have found. Does anyone else have any?
And there were some manned rocketplane flights in Europe prior to this, but I don't have much information on those flights. If any of you do (and especially if you have covers!), please post! I will be glad to host your images if need be, just email them to me.
So, the challenge is on — Is there an earlier manned rocketplane flight cover?