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X-2 Aircraft

X-2 on ramp with B-50 mothership and support crew

Photo Number: E-5743
Photo Date: 1956
Formats: 440x640 JPEG Image (164 KBytes)
879x1280 JPEG Image (460 KBytes)
2061x3000 JPEG Image (1890 KBytes)

Air Force test pilot Capt. Iven Kincheloe stands in front of the Bell X-2 (46-674) on the ramp at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Behind the X-2 are ground support personnel, the B-50 launch aircraft and crew, chase planes, and support vehicles.

Kincheloe had flown nearly 100 combat missions in Korea in an F-86 and was credited with shooting down 10 enemy aircraft. He then graduated from the Empire Test Pilot's School in Great Britain in December 1954, whereupon he was assigned to Edwards Air Force Base. He made four powered flights in the X-2. On September 7, 1956, he reached an altitude of 126,200 feet. After the death of Capt. Mel Apt and the loss of the X-2 #1 on September 27, 1956, in the first Mach 3 flight, Kincheloe was assigned as the Air Force project pilot for the X-15. Before he had a chance to fly that rocket-powered aircraft, Kincheloe himself lost his life on July 26, 1958, in an F-104 accident.


The X-2 was a swept-wing, rocket-powered aircraft designed to fly faster than Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound). It was built for the U.S. Air Force by the Bell Aircraft Company, Buffalo, New York.

The X-2 was flown to investigate the problems of aerodynamic heating as well as stability and control effectiveness at high altitudes and high speeds (in excess of Mach 3). Bell aircraft built two X-2 aircraft. These were constructed of K-monel (a copper and nickel alloy) for the fuselage and stainless steel for the swept wings and control surfaces. The aircraft had ejectable nose capsules instead of ejection seats because the development of ejection seats had not reached maturity at the time the X-2 was conceived. The X-2 ejection canopy was successfully tested using a German V-2 rocket. The X-2 used a skid-type landing gear to make room for more fuel. The airplane was air launched from a modified Boeing B-50 Superfortress Bomber.

X-2 Number 1 made its first unpowered glide flight on Aug. 5, 1954, and made a total of 17 (4 glide and 13 powered) flights before it was lost Sept. 27, 1956. The pilot on Flight 17, Capt. Milburn Apt, had flown the aircraft to a record speed of Mach 3.2 (2,094 mph), thus becoming the first person to exceed Mach 3. During that last flight, inertial coupling occurred and the pilot was killed. The aircraft suffered little damage in the crash, resulting in proposals (never implemented) from the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, Virginia, to rebuild it for use in a hypersonic (Mach 5+) test program.

In 1953, X-2 Number 2 was lost in an in-flight explosion while at the Bell Aircraft Company during captive flight trials and was jettisoned into Lake Ontario. The Air Force had previously flown the aircraft on three glide flights at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in 1952.

Although the NACA’s High-Speed Flight Station, Edwards, California, (predecessor of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center) never actually flew the X-2 aircraft, the NACA did support the program primarily through Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory wind-tunnel tests and Wallops Island, Virginia, rocket-model tests. The NACA High-Speed Flight Station also provided stability and control recording instrumentation and simulator support for the Air Force flights. In the latter regard, the NACA worked with the Air Force in using a special computer to extrapolate and predict aircraft behavior from flight data.

NASA Photo by: USAF
Keywords: X-2; V-2; B-50; Bell Aircraft Company; Capt. Iven Kincheloe; NACA High-Speed Flight Station; NASA Dryden Flight Research Center; U. S. Air Force; Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory; Wallops Island; Edwards Air Force Base; Captain Milburn Apt.

Last Modified: September 21, 2006
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