Skip Top nav bar link group topnav end piece go to business section go to education section go to history section go to gallery section go to news section go to organizations section go to research section go to search engine go to site index topnav end piece
NASA Meatball NASA Dryden Dryden Fleet Aircraft banner
NACA Aircraft on Lakebed - D-558-II, X-1B, and X-1E NACA Aircraft on Lakebed - D-558-II, X-1B, and X-1E

Photo Number: E-1914

Photo Date: August 12, 1955

Formats: 539x480 JPEG Image (98 KBytes)
1150x1024 JPEG Image (506 KBytes)
3000x2670 JPEG Image (4,198 KBytes)

Early NACA research aircraft on the lakebed at the High Speed Research Station in 1955: Left to right: X-1E, D-558-II, X-1B


There were four versions of the original Bell X-1 rocket-powered research aircraft that flew at the NACA High-Speed Flight Research Station, Edwards, California. The bullet-shaped X-1 aircraft were built by Bell Aircraft Corporation, Buffalo, N.Y. for the U.S. Army Air Forces (after 1947, U.S. Air Force) and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).

The X-1 Program was originally designated the XS-1 for EXperimental Supersonic. The X-1's mission was to investigate the transonic speed range (speeds from just below to just above the speed of sound) and, if possible, to break the "sound barrier." Three different X-1s were built and designated: X-1-1, X-1-2 (later modified to become the X-1E), and X-1-3. The basic X-1 aircraft were flown by a large number of different pilots from 1946 to 1951.

The X-1 Program not only proved that humans could go beyond the speed of sound, it reinforced the understanding that technological barriers could be overcome. The X-1s pioneered many structural and aerodynamic advances including extremely thin, yet extremely strong wing sections; supersonic fuselage configurations; control system requirements; powerplant compatibility; and cockpit environments. The X-1 aircraft were the first transonic-capable aircraft to use an all-moving stabilizer. The flights of the X-1s opened up a new era in aviation.

The first X-1 was air-launched unpowered from a Boeing B-29 Superfortress on January 25, 1946. Powered flights began in December 1946. On October 14, 1947, the X-1-1, piloted by Air Force Captain Charles "Chuck" Yeager, became the first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound, reaching about 700 miles per hour (Mach 1.06) and an altitude of 43,000 feet.

The number 2 X-1 was modified and redesignated the X-1E. The modifications included adding a conventional canopy, an ejection seat, a low-pressure fuel system of increased capacity, and a thinner high-speed wing.

The X-1E was used to obtain in-flight data at twice the speed of sound, with particular emphasis placed on investigating the improvements achieved with the high-speed wing. These wings, made by Stanley Aircraft, were only 3-3/8-inches thick at the root and had 343 gauges installed in them to measure structural loads and aerodynamic heating.

The X-1E used its rocket engine to power it up to a speed of 1,471 miles per hour (Mach 2.24) and to an altitude of 73,000 feet. Like the X-1 it was air-launched.

The X-1 aircraft were almost 31 feet long and had a wingspan of 28 feet. The X-1 was built of conventional aluminum stressed-skin construction to extremely high structural standards. The X-1E was also 31 feet long but had a wingspan of only 22 feet, 10 inches. It was powered by a Reaction Motors, Inc., XLR-8-RM-5, four-chamber rocket engine. As did all X-1 rocket engines, the LR-8-RM-5 engine did not have throttle capability, but instead, depended on ignition of any one chamber or group of chambers to vary speed.

The X-1A, X-1B, and the X-1D were growth versions of the X-1. They were almost five feet longer, almost 2,500 pounds heavier and had conventional canopies. The X-1A and X-1B were modified to have ejection seats.

Their mission was to continue the X-1 studies at higher speeds and altitudes. The X-1A began this research after the X-1D was destroyed in an explosion on a captive flight before it made any research flights. On December 12, 1953, Major Charles Yeager flew the X-1A up to a speed of 1,612 miles per hour (almost two-and-a-half times the speed of sound). Then on August 26, 1954, Major Arthur Murray took the X-1A up to an altitude of 90,440 feet. Those two performances were the records for the X-1 program. Later the X-1A was also destroyed after being jettisoned from the carrier aircraft because of an explosion.

The X-1B was fitted with 300 thermocouples for exploratory aerodynamic heating tests. It also was the first aircraft to fly with a reaction control system, a prototype of the system used on the X-15. The X-1C was cancelled before production.

Three D-558-II "Skyrockets" were built by Douglas Aircraft, Inc. for NACA and the Navy. The mission of the D-558-II program was to investigate the flight characteristics of a swept-wing aircraft at high supersonic speeds. Particular attention was given to the problem of "pitch-up," a phenomenon often encountered with swept-wing configured aircraft.

The D-558-II was a single-place, 35-degree swept-wing aircraft measuring 42 feet in length. It was 12 feet, 8 inches in height and had a wingspan of 25 feet. Fully fueled it weighed from about 10,572 pounds to 15,787 pounds depending on configuration.

The first of the three D-558-IIs had a Westinghouse J34-40 jet engine and took off under its own power. The second was equipped with a turbojet engine replaced in 1950 with a Reaction Motors Inc. LR8-RM-6 rocket engine. This aircraft was modified so it could be air-launched from a P2B-1S (Navy designation for the B-29) carrier aircraft. The third Skyrocket had the jet engine and the rocket engine but was also modified so it could be air-launched. The jet engine was for takeoff and climbing to altitude and the four-chambered rocket engine was for reaching supersonic speeds. The rocket engine was rated at 6,000 pounds of thrust.

The D-558-II was first flown on Feb. 4, 1948, by John Martin, a Douglas test pilot. A NACA pilot, Scott Crossfield, became the first person to fly faster than twice the speed of sound when he piloted the D-558-II to its maximum speed of 1,291 miles per hour on Nov. 20, 1953. Its peak altitude, 83,235 feet, a record in its day, was reached with USMC Lt. Col. Marion Carl behind the controls.


Keywords: X-1E; X-1-1; X-1-2; X-1-3; Bell Aircraft Corporation; NACA; U.S. Army Air Forces; Air Force; Boeing; B-29 Superfortress; Charles "Chuck" Yeager; Reaction Motors; Inc.; LR-8-RM-5 rocket engine; Stanley Aircraft; Dryden Fleet Aircraft.; D-558-II; X-1B; Scott Crossfield; Marion Carl; Arthur Murray; John Martin; Douglas Aircraft

Last Modified: February 6, 2002
Responsible NASA Official: Marty Curry
Curator: PAO Webmasters

NASA Website Privacy Statement