Bell X-1


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Bell X-1

Three X-1 were built to investigate flight problems at supersonic speed. The type was first air-launched (unpowered) on 19 January 1946; powered flights began in December of that year. On 14 October 1947 the first X-1, piloted by Capt Charles 'Chuck' Yeager, became the first aeroplane to exceed the speed of sound-reaching 1,078km/h or Mach 1.015 at an altitude of 12,800m. The second X-1 was used by NASA for high-speed flight research; the third was destroyed at Edwards AFB during flight fuelling operations.

The X-1A was similar to the X-1, except for having turbo-driven fuel pumps (instead of a system using nitrogen under pressure), a new cockpit canopy, longer fuselage and increased fuel capacity. In this aircraft a speed of Mach 2.435 was achieved on 12 December 1953; in the following June an altitude of over 27,430m was reached. In 1955 this aircraft was given new wing panels, but was destroyed before its first flight in this configuration.

Following the X-1B (used for thermal research) came the projected X-1C and the X-1D. The latter aircraft was destroyed in August 1951 after being jettisoned from its B-50 carrier-plane, following an explosion.

The last of the series was the X-1E: the second of the original X-1 fitted with wings of 4% thickness/chord ratio (instead of 10%), turbo-driven fuel pumps and a knife-edge windscreen. Ballistic control rockets designed by Bell Aircraft's Rocket Division were included in this aircraft, which was flight tested by NACA. A total of 156 flights were made with the X-1, 21 with the X-1A, 27 with the X-1B, one with the X-1D and 26 with the X-1E.


The fuselage shape of the X-1 series was broadly based around the shape of a 12.7mm calibre bullet, which was a shape known to go supersonic with ease.

The rocket-powered X-1s proved a straight-wing aircraft could go supersonic. The two swept-wing X-2s made 13 powered flights up to Mach 3, but were both lost.

High-speed research aircraft were prone to an aerodynamic phenomenon called inertia coupling. This nearly killed Chuck Yeager in the X-1 and caused the loss of the first X-2.

First flights of the X-1 were made in Florida before tests were moved to California.

On his trip through the sound barrier, Yeager reached 1078km/h at an altitude of 12801m.

Captain Yeager flew the X-1 on his military salary of $275 per month.

The pilot of the X-1 had no throttle, although each of four rocket chambers could be fired separately.

Bell X-1

 ENGINE1 x Reactions Motors XLR-11, 26.7kN
  Take-off weight6124 kg13501 lb
  Empty weight2948 kg6499 lb
  Wingspan8.5 m28 ft 11 in
  Length9.5 m31 ft 2 in
  Height3.4 m11 ft 2 in
  Max. speed1078 km/h670 mph
  Ceiling22250 m73000 ft

Bell X-1A, B and D (second generation)A three-view drawing of Bell X-1A, B and D (second generation) (1320 x 1128)

BHH, 30.01.2016 06:42

I wonder if this aircraft was possibly 'over'built from a structural integrity perspective. As in they might have been a bit too(?) concerned about effects of the sound barrier. Everything I've read is that this thing was per cubic foot, just about the strongest airframe ever to fly!


lxbfYeaa, e-mail, 14.03.2024 BHH



deaftom, e-mail, 30.03.2011 05:28

The X-1 was originally designated the XS-1 (Experimental Sonic, type 1), and was so called at the time it first broke the sound barrier. The designation was changed to X-1 soon after, launching the famous X-series of designations that continues today.


Ken Ernst, e-mail, 06.03.2011 19:25

my comment is not about the Bell X-1 but about the man who flew it General Chuck Yeager. To me he is a great American hero. The history he has with aviation is amazining. I wish you the best Chuck! I hope you are still out on the trails. Ken Ernst


Leo Rudnicki, e-mail, 16.07.2009 22:13

Publicizing the "stabilator" at the time, in addition to selling Nene engines to the Soviets, might have made for an improved MiG-15 in Korea. Sir Frank Whittle ended up living and working in the United States, along with Hans von Ohain. Who pays the piper calls the tune. Miles wasn't forbidden from proceeding. Funding was terminated, by the government duly elected. Bell Aircraft and Chuck Yeager earned and deserve the honors. Loved "The Right Stuff".


j stafford baker, e-mail, 16.07.2009 20:25

Odd, theres no mention of the Miles Aircraft Cos design,
the details of which were indeed quietly provided to the US
by the Ministry, without telling Miles Aircraft, having
forbidden them to proceed any further with the intendedly supersonic airframe work.


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