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X-1 launch from B-50 mothership

X-1 launch from B-50 mothership

Movie Number   EM-0028-01
Movie Date   early 1950s
Formats   160x120 QuickTime Movie (1.1 MB)
320x240 QuickTime Movie (2.3 MB)
480x360 QuickTime Movie (2.3 MB)
640x480 QuickTime Movie (2.3 MB)
X-1 Still photos of this aircraft are available in several resolutions at

This 33 second movie clip shows X-1 being dropped from the B-50 mothership from 35,000 feet.

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 on October 14, 1947, in the first piloted flight faster than Mach 1.0, the speed of sound.

During November, 1947, the Air Force authorized studies that led to a contract (W-33-038-ac-20062) with Bell Aircraft to build four (later three) improved X-1 aircraft (the X-1C being cancelled). Designated X-1A (#48-1384), X-1B (#48-1385), and X-1D (#48-1386), the airplanes were ready by late 1950. The aircraft were about five feet longer and 2,500 lbs. heavier than the original X-craft planes. They used the 8-percent wing like the earlier X-craft. The D-model had a low-pressure turbo-pump and the B model was fitted with a prototype hydrogen peroxide reaction control system for later aircraft to use in exoatmospheric research flights. Access was through a lift-off canopy. The planes were finished in their bare metal color and white.

The X-1D was ready first, but on what was intended to be its second flight (August 22, 1951) it was jettisoned and crashed at Muroc after an aerial explosion while still mated to its mother (B-50A [#46-006A]) ship.

The long-delayed X-1 #3 airplane with the turbine pump was finally completed for the NACA in 1951. It made its first glide flight on July 20, 1951, with NACA pilot Joseph Cannon. Its second and final captive flight was on November 9, 1951. It was destroyed on the ground by an explosion and fire along with its B-50A mother ship while attempting to jettison fuel.

The X-1A arrived at Muroc in January, 1953 and had its first powered flight on February 21, 1953. On December 8, 1953 with Yeager as pilot, the aircraft investigated high-speed stability and control issues. The X-1A was turned over to the NACA, but was lost to aerial explosion on August 8, 1955, shortly before it was to be launched on its second flight. It had to be jettisoned to the Muroc desert. Shop experiments soon determined that the deadly explosive culprit for the X-1D, the X-1 #3, and the X-1A was the ulmer leather gasket material used in contact with the liquid oxygen.

The loss of the X-1 #3 and the X-1D led the NACA to rebuild the X-1 #2 into a new aircraft. By December 1955, the redesignated X-1E was ready. It featured a new, very thin 4-percent wing along with the existing 8-percent tail, with an efficient low-pressure turbo-pump for the engine. It also contained an ejection seat for the pilot, unlike the original X-1. On October 8, 1957, the aircraft with NACA pilot Joseph A. Walker achieved a speed of Mach 2.24 (1,478 mph).

During its second flight career, the new X-1E allowed NACA to gather significant data on high Mach flight and stability questions and to demonstrate improved engine and production technology for incorporation into new USAF aircraft. The X-1E was also used to obtain in-flight data on the improvements achieved with the high-speed wing. These wings, made by Stanley Aircraft, wereonly 3 - 3/8-in. thick at the thickest point and had 343 gauges installed in them for measurement of structural loads and aerodynamic heating. Like the original X-1 it was air launched.

Keywords   X-1E; B-50; XS-1; Muroc Army Airfield; Air Force; Muroc Army Airfield; X-1; X-1A; X-1B; X-1D; Joseph Cannon; Chuck Yeager; ulmer leather gasket; Joseph A. Walker; Stanley Aircraft; Bell Aircraft
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