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X-1A in flight over lakebed X-1A in flight over lakebed

Photo Number: E-2490
Photo Date: 1953

Formats: 539x480 JPEG Image (109 KBytes)
1150x1024 JPEG Image (540 KBytes)
3000x2670 JPEG Image (3,782 KBytes)

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-1A (48-1384) returning from an Air Force test flight over Edwards Air Force Base, California in late 1953. A North American F-86A Sabre as chase plane will follow the X-1A to touchdown. The Rogers Dry Lake is the whitish area under the planes with the airfield at the edge of the dry lake.

Bell test pilot Jean "Skip" Ziegler made six flights between 14 February and 25 April 1953. Air Force test pilots Maj. Charles "Chuck" Yeager and Maj. Arthur "Kit" Murray made 18 test flights between 21 November 1953 and 26 August 1954. NACA test pilot Joseph Walker made one successful flight on 20 July 1955. During a second flight attempt, on 8 August 1955, an explosion damaged the aircraft shortly before launch. Walker, unhurt, climbed up into the JTB-29A mothership, and the X-1A was jettisoned over the Edwards AFB bombing range.

There were five versions of the 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 Sonic. 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 Jan. 25, 1946. Powered flights began in December 1946. On Oct. 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 Dec. 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 Aug. 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. installed on it. 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.

All three of the Bell Aircraft Company-manufactured planes had 6,000-pound-thrust, XLR-11 four-chambered rocket engines. The XLR-11 was built by Reaction Motors, Inc. The aircraft were all air-launched from a carrier aircraft.

NASA Photo by: NASA photo

Keywords: Bell Aircraft Corporation; North American F-86 Sabre; Rogers Dry Lake; Edwards Air Force Base; Jean "Skip" Ziegler; Maj. Charles "Chuck" Yeager; Maj. Arthur "Kit" Murray; Joseph Walker; JTB-29A; X-1; Muroc Army Air Field; Muroc Air Force Base; Edwards Air Force Base; NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory; National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; NACA High-Speed Flight Research Station; Pinecastle Army Air Field; Bell Aircraft Corporation; Reaction Motors; Inc.; Army Air Forces; Boeing B-29; Boeing B-50; Chalmers "Slick"Goodlin; USAF; Lt. Col. Frank Everest; Jr.; Joseph Cannon; sound barrier; all-moving horizontal stabilizer; XLR-8-RM-5; X-1A; X-1B; X-1D; X-1E

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