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The Bell X-1 was an experimental aircraft that now hangs in the Smithsonian. The X-1 was the first aircraft to officially break the speed of sound (Mach 1) on October 14, 1947. Chuck Yeager, who piloted the X-1 named the plane "Glamorous Glennis" as he did all his aircraft in honor of his wife.
At at first the X-1 was desidnated the XS-1 for Experimental Sonic-1. The aircraft was a long orange cigar shape with thin straight wings. The wing was very important to breaking the sound barrier. When an aircraft with a thick wing (most of the WWII fighters) approaches the speed of sound, a shockwave builds up in a V shape in front of the wing. This prevents proper airflow over the control surfaces. The plane begins to tumble and crashes. The X-1 used a very thin wing to prevent the buildup of the shockwave.

The X-1 was powered by liquid-fuel rocket engines, the only way to control the speed was to engage a given number of the engines; there was no throttle. Three of the X-1 aircraft were lost due to explosions of the rocket fuel. The X-1 although able to take off like a normal aircraft, was hoisted in to the belly of a modified B-29 or B-50 and carried to altitude. When the time was right the pilot would climb into the X-1 which was dropped out of the bomber. The pilot would engage the rocket engines and accelerate to Mach 1.

Although the X-1 was the first to officially break the sound barrier, some claim that it was broken during World War II. It is possible for a British Spitfire to reach close to the speed of sound from a high-altitide power-dive. Unfortunaly the pilot would be unable to pull out of the dive and would leave little more than a smoking hole.

The British were also working on their own supersonic aircraft, but opted for a more refined jet engine as opposed to the dangerous rocket of the X-1. The Brits may have beat the US to the sound barrier if their project had not hit beauacratic snags.

ikeleib brought this to my attention: "It is not only the wings on the X1 that made it different. It had the entire horizonal stabilizer move instead of just a control surface. A simple elevator will not function at supersonic speeds." Thank you.

WolfKeeper points out: "for completeness you might like to mention that the horizontal stabiliser tech was taken from the British. There was this deal... stabiliser for all the data that USA had- UK delivered it, USA welched... (incidentally, US claims they invented it, but there are pictures prior to this on British aircraft)" I don't know if the stabilizer/elevator on the X-1 was "stolen" from the British or if the two were developed simotaneously as the logical solution to the same problem. The timeline has been noted. Thanks for the info.
Incedently, the X-1 had a "standard" set of tail controls. The free moving elevator (tail surface) was used for trim and was controlled by a simple up-off-down toggle in the cockpit. Yeager flew the X-1 with the yoke but began loosing control as he approached Mach on previous attempts. On his historic flight he controlled the aircraft with a combination of the yoke (roll), rudder (yaw) and the toggle (pitch). This is a testemant to his skill as an aviator.

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