The Bell X-1 rocket-powered research aircraft flew at the NACA High-Speed Flight Research Station, Edwards, California. The X-1 Program was originally designated the XS-1 for EXperimental Sonic. The X-1’s mission was to investigate the transonic speed range (speeds from just below to just above the speed of sound) and, if possible, to break the "sound barrier."
The first of the rocket-powered research aircraft, the X-1, was a bullet-shaped airplane that was built by the Bell Aircraft Company for the US Air Force and the NACA. The first powered flight of the X-1 was made on Dec. 9, 1946, at Edwards Air Force Base with Chalmers Goodlin, a Bell test pilot, at the controls.
On Oct. 14, 1947, with USAF Captain Charles "Chuck" Yeager as pilot, the aircraft flew faster than the speed of sound for the first time. Captain Yeager ignited the four-chambered XLR-11 rocket engines after being air-launched from under the bomb bay of a B-29 at 21,000 feet. The 6,000-pound thrust ethyl alcohol/liquid oxygen burning rockets, built by Reaction Motors, Inc., pushed the aircraft up to a speed of 700 miles per hour in level flight.
Captain Yeager was also the pilot when the X-1 reached its maximum speed, 957 miles per hour. Another USAF pilot. Lt. Col. Frank Everest, Jr., was credited with taking the X-1 to its maximum altitude of 71,902 feet. Eighteen pilots in all flew the X-1s.
A single-place monoplane, the X-1 was 30 feet, 11 inches long; 10 feet, 10 inches high; and had a wingspan of 29 feet. It weighed 6,784 pounds and carried 6,250 pounds of fuel. It had a flush cockpit with a side entrance and no ejection seat. (All photos courtesy of the Nasa Dryden Flight Research Center Photo Collection)