Everybody over a certain age remembers Steve Austin, the test pilot who survived a terrific crash and had to be reassembled with bionic components, from the TV Show The 6 Million Dollar Man, but not many realise that the crash shown in the opening sequence was not a special effect. On 10 May 1967, Bruce Peterson took the experimental M2-F2 wingless aircraft on its 16th test flight and crashed horribly. He survived thanks to the extensive surgery he received, but unfortunately did not receive any bionic implants!
The M2-F2 was flown to test the Lifting Body design, in which the aircraft has no wings but instead derives its lift from the shape of the fuselage (wide, flat on the bottom and curved on top). It was intended to be stable at extreme speeds and survive intense heat — the conditions expected when re-entering the atmosphere from orbit. The M2-F2 suffered only one serious accident in 12 years. The research conducted with this design (and with its successor, the M2-F3) proved that it was possible to glide down from orbital altitude and velocity safely, without power, and was to become the foundation of the design of the Space Shuttle.