The Bell X-1, originally XS-1 was the first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound in controlled, level flight. It was the first of the so called X-planes, a series of aircraft designated for testing of new technologies and usually kept highly secret.
On October 14, 1947, Charles "Chuck" Yeager of the United States Air Force flew aircraft #46-062, which he had named 'Glamorous Glennis', after his wife. The rocket-powered aircraft was launched from the belly of a specially modified B-29 and glided to a landing on a runway.
The German pilot Hans Guido Mutke claimed to be the first person to break the sound barrier, on April 9, 1945 in a Messerschmitt Me 262, but this claim is disputed. Many also contend that George Welch broke the barrier on October 1, 1947 in his XP-86 Sabre during a dive, just two weeks before the X-1. Because of "Wheaties" Welch's claim, the official record held by the X-1 is "first aircraft to fly faster than sound in level flight."
The XS-1 was the first high-speed aircraft built purely for aviation research purposes. The model was never intended for production.
She was designed largely in accordance with specifications provided by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) (now NASA), paid for by the Army Air Forces, and built by Bell Aircraft Inc.
The XS-1 #2 was flight tested by the NACA to provide design data for later production high-performance aircraft.
While her basic form was patterned on a .50 cal bullet, it is not widely known the X-1 owes a great deal of its design to the Miles M-52, a British jet powered design dating back to 1942. The M-52 design was handed to the Americans during WWII as part of what was supposed to have been a technology sharing agreement (although the British complained that there was no technical reciprocation on the part of the Americans once they got hold of the M-52 plans).
The M-52's "all-flying" tail design solved some problems with the X-1 concerning stability as the craft approached the sound barrier. Please note that in the widely used publicity photo of the Bell X-1 at the top of this article, the aircraft is using the standard configuration of tail control surfaces.
The addition of the "all-flying" tail was one of the major breakthroughs that allowed the X-1 to break the sound barrier under control, and no photographs showing the new tail were allowed to be published for many years in an effort to keep its existence secret from Soviet aircraft developers.
The research techniques used in the X-1 program became the pattern for all subsequent X-craft projects. The NACA X-1 procedures and personnel also helped lay the foundation of America's space program in the 1960s. The X-1 project defined and solidified the post-war cooperative union between U.S. military needs, industrial capabilities, and research facilities. The flight data collected by the NACA in the X-1 tests then provided a basis for American aviation supremacy in the latter half of the 20th century.
As a result of the X-1's initial supersonic flight, the National Aviation Association voted its 1948 Collier Trophy to be shared by the three main participants in the program.
Honored at the White House by President Truman were Larry Bell for Bell Aircraft, Captain Yeager for piloting the flights, and John Stack of NACA for the NACA contributions. Years later, Yeager reported that his father, a staunch Republican, refused to shake hands with President Truman (a Democrat).
BELL X-1A, B, C, D
Mission: Designed to double the flight abilities of the original X-1, these planes were meant to fly at speeds exceeding Mach 2, with maximum altitudes above 90,000 ft. The X-C (not completed) was to be a test platform for USAF weapons. The X-D was to be used for high speed heat testing.
Video 1: Bell X-1
Video 2: Chuck Yeager Broke Sound Barrier 60 Years Ago
(This text was adapted from http://www.wikipedia.org/ )(GFDL)
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