Joseph A. Walker was born February 20, 1921, in Washington, Pennsylvania. The son of a farmer, Joseph graduated from Trinity High School in 1938, then attended Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1942, with a B.A. degree in Physics. After taking his first ride in an airplane during his senior year in college, he decided to pursue a career in aviation. Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in 1943, Walker flew 58 combat missions in 18 months in P-38 fighters, earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with Seven Oak Clusters.
Captain Walker joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in March 1945 and served as project pilot at the Edwards flight research facility in Edwards Air Force Base, California on such pioneering research projects as the D-558-1, D-558-2, X-1, X-3, X-4, X-5, and the X-15. He also flew programs involving the F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104, B-47 and the P-59A, the first jet aircraft manufactured in the United States.
Joseph Walker became Chief Research Pilot at the Dryden Flight Research Center after NACA became part of the newly created National Air and Space Agency (NASA) in 1958. He made his first NASA X-15 flight on March 25, 1960. He flew the X-15 a total of 24 times during the next three years, taking it to its fastest speed and highest altitude. He reached a record speed of 4,104 mph (Mach 5.92) during a flight on June 27, 1962. Walker took the X-15 to its altitude record of 354,300 feet (over 67 miles) on August 22, 1963. This was his last X-15 flight and the same day he left NASA to return to the Air Force. Three of his X-15 flights in 1963 exceeded 60 miles, entering “technical” outer space. As a result, he logged a total of 32 minutes in space and was the first person to enter technical space twice.
Captain Walker was a founding member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and one of the first to be designated a Fellow. Walker was also the first man to pilot the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) that was used to develop piloting and operational techniques for lunar landings. Captain Joseph Walker was killed near Barstow, California on June 8, 1966, in a mid-air collision between an F-104 he was piloting and an XB-70, an experimental supersonic bomber.
Joseph Walker received many awards during his 21 years as a research pilot. These include the 1961, Robert J. Collier Trophy, the 1961, Harmon International Trophy for Aviators, the 1961, Kincheloe Award and the 1961, Octave Chanute Award. Walker was given an Honorary Doctor of Aeronautical Sciences degree from his alma mater in June of 1962 and was named Pilot of the Year in 1963, by the National Pilots Association.