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Complete Electrical Failure at 104,000 Feet

Written by Alex Koyfman
Posted January 13, 2022

Dear Reader,

When William J. Knight boarded his plane on June 29, 1967, he put his chances of survival at about 95%.

Not horrible for his line of work, but that remaining 5%, that 1-in-20 shot, was what separated guys like him from all the rest.

Col. Knight's mission for that day was to fly the experimental X-15, a rocket plane operated by both the USAF and NASA, into a section of the atmosphere called the mesosphere, between 30 and 40 miles above the Earth's surface.

As you may have guessed, there was little ordinary about his plane.

x15

For one thing, it didn't take off from a runway, but was instead hauled into the air like a missile underneath a B-52 bomber and then dropped at around 30,000 feet.

It also wasn't the longest-flying machine in the world, with its main rocket motors only carrying enough fuel to burn at maximum thrust for two minutes.

Landings were a bit of a toss-up, too, as the X-15 had skids in place of its rear wheels and used a dry lake bed for a runway.

All in all, it was the kind of high-risk cocktail that Knight enjoyed... but even he wasn't ready for what lay in store for him later.

And You Think Your Commute Is Rough

Pre-flight checks went fine. His pressure suit, essentially a space suit, was sealed around his body and he was loaded into the plane, which itself was already slung under the belly of its B-52 mother ship.

Takeoff was routine and so was the ascent to roughly the same altitude where modern jetliners cruise.

Knight had dozens of flights under his belt already, but that initial detachment from the mothership never failed to bring a throb of adrenaline. For those few seconds, he was nothing more than a free-fall bomb on a ballistic trajectory terminating somewhere on the desert floor below.

And then the rockets fired.

With 57,000 pounds of thrust raging from the four nozzles at the rear of the plane, Knight was accelerated forward at a force of 4 G, or about 130 feet per second squared.

What would have knocked most people unconscious was nothing but a timing cue for Knight, who pulled up on the control stick, sending the rocket up at a 30-degree angle.

In less than 20 seconds, the plane had climbed past 80,000 feet and was approaching 4 times the speed of sound.

The air was thin up there, and control of the craft was remarkably tame and smooth. It was usually the point in the flight when the initial excitement begins to subside and the actual work of the day begins.

Flying a Winged Brick at 20 Miles Altitude

On this day, it was also the moment everything went wrong.

As the plane passed 100,000 feet, there was a brief flicker from the warning lights and then, at precisely 104,000 feet, every light and system on the plane lost power.

Nothing worked. No radio. No instruments. The suit was still functioning, but only because it had its own power supply. The plane's control surfaces, which were mechanically actuated but hydraulically assisted, worked to an extent but would likely become nearly useless in denser air.

This left some major problems to contend with, the biggest of which was that Knight was still gaining altitude at a speed approaching twice the muzzle velocity of a rifle bullet.

At 173,000 feet, that unpowered ascent finally came to an end thanks to nothing more than gravity.

After that, with the world's fastest, highest-flying glider carrying him earthward, Col. Knight flew by intuition and eyesight all the way back down to the desert floor, belly-landing the plane less than 15 minutes after he'd dropped from the B-52.

This would have shaken most people into a different career path, but not Col. Knight.

One Brush With Death... Deserves Another

Later that year, in October, he would again take to the sky in the X-15, this time setting the world's speed record for powered winged aircraft. That record still stands to this day.

In yet another flight, Knight went on to earn his astronaut's wings after exceeding 62 miles in altitude to break through the officially recognized threshold separating the Earth's atmosphere and space.

The story of Col. Knight and his now legendary plane (you can go see a real X-15 for yourself at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.) is full of extremes and long shots, but one aspect of this story is often overlooked.

x15

The X-15, which was a test bed for hypersonic, high-altitude aerodynamics and was one of the ancestors of the reusable Space Shuttle, was also powered by one of the most unique fuels ever implemented in aviation.

It was an ammonia-based rocket fuel. Highly potent yet almost carbon-neutral.

In fact, when burned properly, ammonia-based fuels will produce only water vapor and nitrogen as byproducts.

While the public may have forgotten largely about Col. Knight, who passed away in 2004, and his legendary pre-Apollo-era flights, the story of this unique fuel continues to this day.

The X-15's True Lasting Legacy

Right now, while the consumer transportation market is selling us all on the benefits of all-electric vehicles, there is a push to make ammonia the true heir to oil's throne.

The benefits of ammonia over electric power are not hard to see. For one thing, it can be used in a standard engine block. With only minor modifications, it's fully possible to run the car you own today (provided it's not an electric) on ammonia fuel while producing near-zero carbon levels.

Ammonia can be stored and pumped like any liquid fuel, with the added benefit of being more stable and far safer.

The one reason ammonia fuel hasn't, in fact, taken a huge bite out of the multi-trillion-dollar energy industry is because up until recently, ammonia production itself was too dirty and expensive to justify the effort.

Today, all of that is changing.

A new technology is now emerging that can produce ammonia with the same carbon footprint as ammonia produces during usage: almost none.

The only byproduct is water vapor and the only ingredients are electricity, air, and water.

And of course, the all-important cost of production is now competitive with that of traditional fuels like gas and diesel.

This technology isn't coming to you from one of the major automotive names like Tesla or Toyota, or newcomers like Rivian, or upstarts like Fisker, or any of the massive energy conglomerates like Exxon, Shell, or BP.

It's coming from a tiny Canadian company whose entire business model — not just a division or a development team — is committed to taking this revolutionary technology to full-scale commercialization.

I've been tracking its progress for almost a year now, and while shares are still affordable, the business is getting close to an inflection point.

The current market cap stands at less than $50 million. The target market is in the trillions.

It shouldn't take a financial wizard to see the opportunity.

Don't waste another second. Get the full story on this technology and the company behind it.

Access my video presentation here.

Fortune favors the bold,

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Alex Koyfman

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His flagship service, Microcap Insider, provides market-beating insights into some of the fastest moving, highest profit-potential companies available for public trading on the U.S. and Canadian exchanges. With more than 5 years of track record to back it up, Microcap Insider is the choice for the growth-minded investor. Alex contributes his thoughts and insights regularly to Wealth Daily. To learn more about Alex, click here.

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