RANGER, Ga. – Legendary test pilot Scott Crossfield, the first man to fly at twice the speed of sound, was found dead Thursday in the wreckage of a single-engine plane in the mountains of northern Georgia, authorities said.
Searchers discovered the wreckage about 1 p.m. near Ranger, 50 miles northwest of Atlanta. The Civil Air Patrol identified the body found inside as Crossfield.
There were thunderstorms in the area Wednesday morning when air traffic monitors lost radio and radar contact with the Crossfield's Cessna 210A, said Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration. The plane had left Prattville, Ala., around 9 a.m. that day for his home near Manassas, Va.
Crossfield's son-in-law, Ed Fleming, told The Associated Press from Crossfield's home on Thursday that family had been notified his plane and body had been found.
The airplane carrying the 84-year-old pilot crashed in a remote and heavily forested gully about 10 miles from Ranger. Oris Hendrix, who lives about a mile away, said she had heard the plane having trouble in the storm.
"He was trying to turn and he just went down," she said. "You could tell the motor was having trouble. You could tell the motor cut off."
Among the small community of test pilots, Crossfield was a legend, said veteran test pilot Fred Griffith of Shelter Bay, Wash.
"This guy was a gentleman and an aviator. That's the top of the line," said Griffith, a test pilot for 40 years. "There's pilots, there's drivers. An aviator is something else. That's the best I can say about anyone in this business.
"I don't know anybody who was more respectable than Scotty Crossfield."
In the early 1950s, Crossfield had been one of a group of civilian pilots assembled by the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the forerunner of NASA.
Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager had already broken the speed of sound in his history-making flight in 1947. But Crossfield set the Mach 2 record — twice the speed of sound — in 1953, when he reached 1,300 mph in NACA's Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket.
In 1960, Crossfield reached Mach 2.97 in an X-15 rocket plane launched from a B-52 bomber. The plane reached an altitude of 81,000 feet. At the time, Crossfield was working as a pilot and design consultant for North American Aviation, which made the X-15. He later worked as an executive for Eastern Airlines and Hawker Siddley Aviation.
More recently, Crossfield had a key role in preparations for the attempt to re-enact the Wright brothers' flight on the 100th anniversary of their feat near Kitty Hawk, N.C. He trained four pilots for the Dec. 17, 2003, flight attempt in a replica of the brothers' flyer, but poor weather prevented the take-off.
Among his many honors, Crossfield was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1983.