Douglas X-3 Stiletto


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Douglas X-3 Stiletto

The US Air Force, Navy and NACA (predecessor to NASA) all invested in this extraordinary research craft that looked like it was going supersonic while sitting on the ground, but barely achieved it in the air. Many new construction techniques and materials were needed to build the X-3 to withstand its anticipated flight regime, and large amounts of expensive titanium were used. Unfortunately, engine choice was the Westinghouse J34, one of several turbojets built by this company that failed to perform as advertised.

Although the airframe was designed to reach Mach 2.2, the best it ever achieved was Mach 1.21, in a dive. This meant it achieved little towards its objective of studying kinetic heating research. The USAF only flew the X-3 six times before handing it to NACA, who made but 20 more flights before it wound up in a museum.


To withstand the anticipated high temperatures, the glazed area was as small as possible, giving the pilot a very restricted view.

The X-3 was covered in strain gauges and recording points for temperatures and pressures. Although it only flew a few times, useful data was gathered and the art of building with titanium was advanced.

The pilot's ejection seat fired downwards. It raised and lowered electrically on the ground to allow access to the cockpit.

Douglas X-3 Stiletto on YOUTUBE

Douglas X-3 Stiletto

 ENGINE2 x 1900kg Westinghouse J34 turbojets
  Take-off weight10160 kg22399 lb
  Wingspan6.91 m23 ft 8 in
  Length20.35 m67 ft 9 in
  Height3.81 m13 ft 6 in
  Max. speed1136 km/h706 mph

Douglas X-3 Stiletto

Sean Declan Doyle Khan, e-mail, 01.08.2015 06:31

Were the wings made of titanium like the rear wings?


Tom, 01.08.2015 06:28

Does anyone know what temperature the wings of this aircraft were recorded to have achieved? And additionally, what material they were constructed from?


Fern, e-mail, 09.11.2014 20:00

When I was a kid I wrote Douglas for photographs of aircraft and this plane was one of them. For me, the X3 was the pinnacle of American engineering. Later, I chose to ignore that it turned out to be a dud, not by its own faults but because of the engines. Many decades later, I touched the X3 at the Dayton USAF museum and, for a few seconds, I was a kid again. Wow!


Matthew Harrison, e-mail, 15.09.2014 22:27

I read a book titled "The Lonely Sky" Its about a test pilot who flys for Douglas and gets it the Sky-streak program. The book ends with him signing up to test the X-3. I don't know if he does or not.


Huey Mitchell, e-mail, 24.02.2013 04:46

The X-3, like many other experimental aircraft, was a prototype. The resulting production aircraft was the F-104 built by Loockeed aircraft. Tt's design was based on data gained from the X-3 and it had a good track record. I worked for Douglas Aircraft from 1957 to 1959 in the new Missles and Spacecraft Division. Was there for the maiden flight of the DC-8 and when they rolled out the last DC-7, the end of one era and the begining of another.


Klaatu83, e-mail, 28.08.2012 03:39

In the 1950s everybody thought the aptly-named "Stiletto" was the most exiting-looking airplane around. It looked as though it just had to be the fastest airplane ever built. What the public weren't aware of until much later was that the engines intended to power this incredible-looking airplane were never built, and it had to make do with much lower-powered substitutes. Being grossly under-powered, it was alleged to have been a real dog to fly and, therefore, something of a failure. One can only wonder what the X-3 would have been like to fly if it had flown with the engines originally intended for it!


pkpatriot, 30.03.2012 03:11

Must. Be hard to land


KIRK DAVIS, e-mail, 25.09.2009 22:50

This aircraft currently resides in the U.S. Air Force museum at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton Ohio.


Bernard Biales, e-mail, 30.11.2007 01:08

Actually, the J34 was OK but was not the intended engine. The X-3 did supply some pioneering information on inertial coupling, which had been discussed by Hewitt Phillips in the late 40s, but ignored until problems arose with planes like the X-3 and F-100A. (Also X-1A and X-2, I believe.)


Jack, e-mail, 22.09.2007 20:20

The X-3 had one of the fastest takeoff speeds in history--260 mph. From a book, "Concept Aircraft, by Jim Winchester; Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, Ca.
pp. 88-89.


jamie, e-mail, 03.04.2007 16:52

i want to kno as much info on this plane as i can i am doing a project for my AFJROTC class at my high school. So could you help me by sending me more info to my e-mail adress


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