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Bell X-1
USAF photo by Lt. Robert A. Hoover
...the first plane ever to fly faster than the speed of sound. Its most famous pilot was Chuck Yeager.

Wingspan: 8.5 meters (28 feet)
Length: 9.5 meters (31 feet)
Weight (launched): 13,034 pounds / 5,917kilograms
Launch speed: 555 kilometers/hour (345 mph)
Launching altitude: 30,000 feet (9.14 kilometers)
Maximum speed on first flight: Mach 1.06 (700 mph at 42,000 ft)
Absolute ceiling: 87,750 feet / 26 kilometers
Engine specs: 345 lb. four-chamber engine providing 6,000 lbs. of thrust (at sea level) Fuel capacity limited full-power usage to about 5 minutes.
Propellants: Liquid oxygen, ethyl alcohol, nitrogen (high-pressure gas used to force the liquid oxygen and alcohol into the rocket engine)

Courtesy of Air Force Flight Test Center, History Office, EAFB, CA
The Bell X-1 was the first piloted plane to fly faster than the speed of sound. Flown by USAF Captain Charles "Chuck" Yeager, the Bell X-1 rocketed to supersonic speeds for the first time on October 14, 1947, over Muroc Air Base (now Edwards Air Force Base) in the Mojave Desert. Prior to this historic flight, many people thought that any plane trying to fly faster than the speed of sound would break apart once it reached the "sound barrier"—and indeed, many planes that hadn't been properly designed for such high speeds were destroyed as they neared Mach 1. But the unique .50 caliber bullet shape of the Bell X-1, paired with its strong, super-thin wings and an adjustible horizontal stabilizer, made it a perfect vehicle for supersonic travel. As the Bell X-1 flight proved, the speed of sound isn't a barrier at all.
When describing the experience of the first supersonic flight, Yeager said, "Suddenly the Mach needle began to fluctuate. It went up to .965 Mach—then it tipped right off the scale. I thought I was seeing things! We were flying supersonic! And it was as smooth as a baby's bottom: Grandma could be sitting up there sipping lemonade."
A total of three X-1s were made, but by far the most famous was the X-1-1 (#46-062), which was used in the first supersonic flight. Captain Yeager, who named the X-1-1 "Glamorous Glennis" after his wife, piloted it to its top speed, Mach 1.45. Another USAF pilot, Lt. Col. Frank Everest, Jr., took the X-1-1 to its highest altitude of 71,902 feet. Ten different pilots flew the Bell X-1-1 on a total of 82 flights before the plane was retired on May 12, 1950.

The Science Center's Bell X-1
Our Bell X-1 is a movie prop made for "The Right Stuff." It was donated by the United States Air Force, Castle Air Force Base and Ladd Company. The original Bell X-1 is in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.


Bell X-1 Links
This Chuck Yeager fansite features annotated drawings of the X-1, video of the X-1 in flight, and an amazing amount of information on Chuck Yeager including a bio, career timeline, and audio and video interviews.

Mach 1.0 and Beyond: Saluting Chuck Yeager and the X-1
Built in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first supersonic flight, this site tells the story of the campaign to "break the sound barrier."

X-1 Photo Gallery
NASA offers a collection of black-and-white and color photos of the X-1 on this site, including one that shows a diamond pattern that appeared in the exhaust trail when the X-1 flew faster than sound.

Testing the First Supersonic Aircraft
At this NASA page, read firsthand accounts of a pilot who participated in early supersonic research flights in several different high-speed planes, including the X-1.

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