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Bell X-1

The Bell X-1 was the first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound in controlled, level flight. It was the first of the so called X-planes, a series of aircraft designated for testing of new technologies and usually kept highly secret.

On October 14, 1947, Charles "Chuck" Yeager of the United States Air Force flew this aircraft, one that he had named 'Glamorous Glennis'. The rocket-powered aircraft was launched from the belly of a specially modified B-29 and glided to a landing on a runway.

A disputed claim by the German pilot Hans Guido Mutke exists to be the first person to break the sound barrier on April 9, 1945 in a Messerschmitt Me 262. Many also contend that George Welch broke the barrier on October 1, 1947 in his XP-86 Sabre, just two weeks before the X-1.


Beginning in 1946, two XS-1 experimental research aircraft (later redesignated X-1s) conducted pioneering tests at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) in California to obtain flight data on conditions in the transonic speed range. These early tests culminated in the first piloted flight faster than Mach 1.0, the speed of sound.

XLR-11 rocket engine
XLR-11 rocket engine

The XS-1 was the first high-speed aircraft built purely for aviation research purposes. The model was never intended for production. The XS-1 was designed largely in accordance with specifications provided by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) (now National Aeronautics and Space Administration), paid for by the Army Air Forces, and built by Bell Aircraft Inc. The XS-1 #2 (serial number 46-063) was flight tested by the NACA to provide design data for later production high-performance aircraft.

It is not widely realised that the X-1 owes a great deal of its design to the Miles M-52, a British design dating back to 1942. The M-52 project was cancelled and the design handed to the Americans during WWII as part of what was supposed to have been a technology sharing agreement.

The research techniques used in the X-1 program became the pattern for all subsequent X-craft projects. The NACA X-1 procedures and personnel also helped lay the foundation of America's space program in the 1960s. The X-1 project defined and solidified the post-war cooperative union between U.S. military needs, industrial capabilities, and research facilities. The flight data collected by the NACA in the X-1 tests then provided a basis for American aviation supremacy in the latter half of the 20th century.

As a result of the X-1's initial supersonic flight, the National Aviation Association voted its 1948 Collier Trophy to be shared by the three main participants in the program. Honored at the White House by President Truman were Larry Bell for Bell Aircraft, Captain Yeager for piloting the flights, and John Stack of NACA for the NACA contributions.

Aircraft serial numbers

  • X-1 (XS-1)
    • #1 - 46-062 - Glamorous Glennis, 82 flights, on display NASM Washington D.C.
    • #2 - 46-063, 74 flights, converted to X-1E.
    • #3 - 46-064, 1 flight, burned on ground November 9, 1951.
  • X-1A - 48-1384, 26 flights, lost in explosion August 8, 1955.
  • X-1B - 48-1385, 27 flights, on display USAF Museum, Dayton, OH.
  • X-1D - 48-1386, 2 flights, lost in explosion August 22, 1951.
  • X-1E, (modified from X-1 #2), 46-063, 27 flights, on display Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB, CA.

X-1 on tarmac with ground crew
X-1 on tarmac with ground crew
Bell X-1A in flight
Bell X-1A in flight

Specifications (X-1)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 30 ft 11 in (9.4 m)
  • Wingspan: 28 ft 0 in (8.5 m)
  • Height: 10 ft 10 in (3.3 m)
  • Wing area: 130 ft² (12 m²)
  • Empty: 7,000 lb (3,174 kg)
  • Loaded: 12,225 lb (5,555 kg)
  • Maximum takeoff: 12,250 lb (5,557 kg)
  • Powerplant: Reaction Motors XLR11 -RM3 rocket engine, 6,000 lb (26.7 kN) thrust


  • Maximum speed: 957 mph (1,541 km/h)
  • Range: 5 minutes powered endurance
  • Service ceiling: 71,902 ft (21,915 m)
  • Rate of climb: ft/min ( m/min)
  • Wing loading: 94 lb/ft² (463 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.49:1

External links

Related content

Related development:

Comparable aircraft:

Designation sequence: X-1 - X-2 - X-3 - X-4

See also:

Last updated: 08-17-2005 14:27:34
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13