This flying bathtub is not only a real NASA prototype, but is also a television star. A test flight went awry in 1967, crashing into the desert floor. The pilot survived, and the footage from the crash made it into the opening credits for The Six Million Dollar Man.
M2-F1 being towed by a C-47.
The wingless aircraft was developed for atmospheric reentry and horizontal landing. The lack of wings would reduce damage from the heat of re-entry.
An engineer mounts a M-1 model in a hypersonic test tunnel for aerodynamic testing.
As an unpowered craft, the M2-F1 was carried in flight by being towed by another aircraft.
A huddle of pilots clustered around the M2-F1 aircraft: Pilot Chuck Yeager in the cockpit, with fellow test pilots Milt Thompson [left], Don Malick [center back], and Bruce Peterson [right].
All four test pilots flew the M2-F1 out of the Mojave Desert, although Peterson later crashed the craft when cold temperatures caused the landing gear to break.
On May 10th, 1967, test pilot Bruce Peterson crashed his in M2-F2 on Rogers Dry Lake.
Peterson was injured, but healed and continued flying. The M2-F2 was rebuilt as the M2-F3, and is now on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. And the footage of the crash lived on in The Six Million Dollar Man, running from 1974 to 1978.
For more on the history of spaceflight, check out the development of rockets at Jet Propulsion Laboratories, inside-out aerospike engines, and the first American crewed spaceflight.