Bell X-1 was a US experimental missile program developed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation on behalf of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA - the forerunner of NASA) and the Army Air Force (USAAF). The X-1 was the first in a series of American experimental aircraft built to test new technologies and concepts, the so-called X-aircraft.
The first test flight took place in January 1946, and on October 14, 1947, X-1 No. 1 became the first manned aircraft to break the sound barrier in a controlled, plane flight. Three copies were built by the first generation X-1. The test program was a success, which led NACA and the Air Force to decide to further develop the aircraft. The second generation X-1 was designed to fly at more than twice the speed of sound (Mach 2), and four copies were ordered, of which three were built (X-1A, X-1B and X-1D). The highest speed with the X-1 was Mach 2,435, which was achieved by Chuck Yeager in the second-generation X-1A aircraft. Of the six X-1 aircraft, three were destroyed in explosions and subsequent fires and crash landings. In November 1958, the X-1 program was terminated after the last flight with the X-1E. A total of 211 test flights were completed with X-1.
The rapid development that aviation technology underwent during World War II caused propeller-driven aircraft to move into transonic velocities (above Mach 0.8) in precipices. The aircraft were not designed for these speeds, and the loss of steering control and disintegrating aircraft was the result. Towards the end of World War II, the German jet fighter Messerschmitt Me 262 and the missile aircraft Messerschmitt Me 163 became operational. These planes reached speeds approaching supersonic speeds, and they were very difficult to shoot down in air combat. This shocked both Allied pilots and military commanders, and in order to regain the technological lead, the United States decided to research the possibility of flying controlled at supersonic speeds.
The X-1 program was a purely research project, and it was never intended that the aircraft should be further developed into an operational fighter aircraft. The aircraft designers could therefore concentrate on building an aircraft that would, in short, fly faster than any other aircraft until then. The X-1 was primarily designed for research into flight at transsonal and supersonic speeds. The main goals were to develop control surfaces (rudders) that worked at these speeds. Furthermore, research was to be carried out into the aerodynamic load to which the aircraft was subjected during various maneuvers. According to the contract, Bell was to guarantee that the aircraft was capable of flying in Mach 0.8, but no guarantees for higher speeds were required. It turned out that the X-1 exceeded expectations, and in addition to being the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in a controlled, flat flight, the program contributed to major advances in aircraft design and the understanding of aerodynamics in supersonic speeds.
Three of the aircraft survived the test program, and are currently on display in various locations in the United States:
X-1 No. 1: National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
X-1B: National Museum of the USAF at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
X-1E: NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, aircraft designers faced new aerodynamic challenges. The development of the jet engine opened up the possibility of flying above the speed of sound. This resulted in many problems, including increased air resistance, severe turbulence, changes in the aircraft's balance and the most serious: shock waves caused the effect of the control surfaces (balance rudder, rudder and side rudder) to be dramatically reduced or even reversed. Knowledge and experience from the first 40 years of flying suddenly became insufficient to understand the aerodynamic forces of supersonic speeds. Test data from the wind tunnels of the time were unreliable, since the same aerodynamic effects applied