Joe Henry Engle (born August 26, 1932), (Maj Gen, USAF, Ret.), is an American pilot who served in the United States Air Force, test pilot for the North American X-15 program, aeronautical engineer, and a former NASA astronaut. As of 2016, he is the only surviving X-15 pilot.

Engle test-flew the joint NASA-Air Force X-15 rocket airplane. During the course of testing, Engle earned his USAF Astronaut Wings, a Distinguished Flying Cross and other awards. Engle was selected by NASA in 1966 for the Apollo program, and was originally scheduled to land on the Moon as Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 17, but was bumped when later flights were cancelled, so that geologist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt could fly.

He subsequently became one of the first astronauts in the Space Shuttle program, having flight tested the Space Shuttle Enterprise in 1977. He was Commander of the second orbital test flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981.


Personal life and educationEdit

Engle was born on August 26, 1932, in Chapman, Kansas. He attended primary and secondary schools in Chapman, Kansas, and he graduated from Dickinson County High School in 1950. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Kansas in 1955.

He was married to Mary Catherine Lawrence of Mission Hills, Kansas and has two grown children and one stepchild. He is currently married to Jeanie Carter Engle of Houston, Texas. Engle's recreational interests include flying (including World War II fighter aircraft), big game hunting, backpacking, and athletics.

Engle was active as a Boy Scout and earned the rank of First Class.[1]

He was a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

Flight experienceEdit

Joe Engle X-15 pilot

Engle with the X-15A-2 aircraft in 1965

Engle received his commission in the U.S. Air Force through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Kansas. While in school he was a member of the Professional Engineering Fraternity Theta Tau, and decided to become a test pilot. While working at Cessna Aircraft during the summer, he learned how to fly from a fellow draftsman.Template:R

Engle entered flying school in 1957. He flew the F-100 Super Sabre with the 474th Fighter Day Squadron and the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base, California. Chuck Yeager recommended Engle for USAF Test Pilot School, from which he graduated in 1961, and he was later assigned to the second class of the Aerospace Research Pilot School, despite his reluctance to leave "stick and rudder" flying for a space capsule.Template:R

After serving as a test pilot in the Fighter Test Group at Edwards Air Force Base, California, Engle was a test pilot in the X-15 research program at Edwards from June 1963 until his assignment to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Engle had applied with fellow ARPS student Michael Collins to the third NASA astronaut group, but the Air Force withdrew Engle's NASA application and instead chose him to replace Robert M. White in the X-15 program, which pleased Engle.[2]

Engle's parents witnessed his flight of 29 June 1965, which exceeded an altitude of 50 miles (80 km) and qualified him for astronaut wings; he again exceeded 50 miles twice[2] during his career of 16 flights. Despite what he later called "the best flying job in the world", Engle decided to apply again to NASA as he expected to be rotated to another Air Force assignment within a year and hoped to go to the Moon.[2]

Engle has flown over 185 different types of aircraft (25 different fighters) during his career: logging more than 15,400 hours flight time; 9,000 in jet aircraft.

NASA careerEdit

Sts-2 crew

Engle, commander of the STS-2 mission, with Truly, pilot

Engle was one of 19 astronauts selected by NASA in April 1966. He was backup Lunar Module Pilot for the Apollo 14 mission and was due to land on the Moon as Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 17, but was replaced by geologist Harrison Schmitt after Apollo 18 was cancelled with pressure from the scientific community to have a scientist explore the Moon, and not just test pilots who had been given geology training. According to Engle, Deke Slayton asked him whether he would prefer to fly on Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, or the Space Shuttle; Engle responded that he would prefer the Shuttle as it was an airplane.Template:R

STS-51-I crew

The crew of the STS-51-I mission. Engle is at the lower left

Engle was Commander of one of the two crews that flew the Space Shuttle Approach and Landing Test Flights from June through October 1977. The Space Shuttle Enterprise was carried to 25,000 feet on top of the Boeing 747 carrier aircraft, and then released for its two-minute glide flight to landing. In this series of flight tests, Engle evaluated the Orbiter handling qualities and landing characteristics, and obtained the stability and control, and performance data in the subsonic flight envelope for the space shuttle. He was the backup Commander for STS-1, the first orbital test flight of Space Shuttle Columbia. Together with pilot Richard Truly he flew as Commander on the second flight of the Space Shuttle, STS-2. He was also mission commander on STS-51-I and logged over 225 hours in space.Template:R

Engle is the only human being to have flown two different types of winged vehicles in space, the X-15 and the Space Shuttle. He is the only astronaut to have manually flown the Shuttle through reentry and landing.Template:R

He served as Deputy Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight at NASA Headquarters from March 1982 to December 1982. He retained his astronaut flight status and returned to the Johnson Space Center in January 1983. He also participated in the Challenger disaster investigation in 1986, and did other consulting work on the Shuttle well into the 1990s.

Post-NASA careerEdit

Joe Engle retired from NASA on November 28, 1986[3] and the USAF on November 30, 1986. On December 1, he was subsequently promoted to the rank of Major General. In 1986 he was appointed to the Kansas Air National Guard and 1992, he was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor. On July 21, 2001, Engle was enshrined at Dayton, Ohio, in the National Aviation Hall of Fame class of 2001, along with USAF ace Robin Olds, U.S. Marine Corps ace Marion Carl, and Albert Ueltschi. In December, 2001, he was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in Florida.

He is currently an aerospace and sporting goods consultant, and continues an active flying career in high performance aircraft.

Awards and honorsEdit

Physical descriptionEdit

  • Weight: 165 lb (75 kg)
  • Height: 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)
  • Hair: Blond
  • Eyes: Hazel[5]


  1. Joe H. Engle at
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Joe H. Engle", NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project, 22 April to 24 June 2004.
  3. Recer, Paul (2 December 1986). "Senior NASA astronaut Joe H. Engle retires". AP. Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  4. Joe Engle inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame
  5. Joe Engle's physical description


  • Thompson, Milton O. (1992) At The Edge Of Space: The X-15 Flight Program, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London. ISBN 1-56098-107-5

External linksEdit

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