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Tuesday, June 27 2017 @ 10:47 PM CDT

AMERICAN X-VEHICLES

For a while, it seemed the series of experimental aircraft sponsored by the U. S. government had run its course.
Between the late 1940s and the late 1970s, almost thirty designations had been allocated to aircraft meant to explore
new flight regimes or untried technologies. Then, largely, it ended. But there was a resurgence in the mid- to late1990s,
and as we enter the fourth year of the new millennia, the designations are up to X-50. 


 

 Many have a misconception that X-vehicles have always explored the high-speed and high-altitude flight regimes—
something popularized by Chuck Yeager in the original X-1 and the exploits of the twelve men that flew the X-15.
Although these flight regimes have always been in the spotlight, many others have been explored by X-vehicles.
The little Bensen X-25 never exceeded 85 mph, and others were limited to speeds of several hundred mph.

There has been some criticism that the use of X designations has been corrupted somewhat by including what are
essentially prototypes of future operational aircraft, especially the two JSF demonstrators. But this is not new—the
X-11 and X-12 from the 1950s were going to be prototypes of the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile, and the
still-born Lockheed X-27 was always intended as a prototype of a production aircraft. So although this practice does
not represent the best use of “X” designations, it is not without precedent.

Initially designated the XS-1, (the S, which stood for Supersonic, was dropped early in the program), the X-1 was
the first aircraft given an “X” designation, and became the first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound in controlled
level flight on 14 October 1947. On this flight, the first X-1 (nicknamed Glamorous Glennis) was piloted by Captain
Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager, who achieved 700 mph (Mach 1.06) at approximately 45,000 feet.
Beginning a precedent that survives to this day, the X-1 was air-launched—in this case carried under a Boeing B-29
Superfortress to an altitude of approximately 20,000 feet. The X-1 program was extremely productive, proving much
of the technology necessary to produce the first-generation of supersonic combat aircraft. Many structural and aerodynamic advances were pioneered by the first generation X-1s, including extremely thin yet exceptionally strong
wing sections, supersonic fuselage configurations, and advanced control system designs.
The first X-1 is on permanent display in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. The second X-1, configured as the X-1E, is on display in front of the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. The third X-1 was
destroyed on 9 November 1951 at Edwards AFB, California.


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