>Gallery: Let the X-Planes Begin | Autopia


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Few aircraft are as storied as the experimental series known as the X-Planes. These flying laboratories date to the mid-1940s and took us ever higher, further and faster.

The first, the Bell X-1, was developed to explore transonic flight after fighter pilots began experiencing control problems as they approached the speed of sound in dives. Since then, a long list of X-Planes — and other test aircraft lacking the official ‘X’ moniker — have explored the unknown edge of aerodynamics and aviation. From the early days of supersonic flight and speed records to the possibilities of unmanned combat aircraft, X-Planes have, as their pilots say, pushed the edge of the envelope.

And so to mark the 62nd anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s historic supersonic flight in the Bell X-1, here are 10 X-Planes that have led to some of the most innovative and useful aircraft designs.

Above: Bell X-1. Originally called the XS-1, the Bell X-1 is the grandfather of X-Planes. The X-1 resembles a .50-caliber bullet because that was one of the few supersonic objects known at the time. The rocket-powered plane broke the sound barrier for the first time on October 14, 1947, during its 50th flight with then Captain Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager at the controls.

One of the more important discoveries made during the X-1 flights was the need for an all flying tail or stabilator. In earlier powered flights the X-1 did not respond to some control inputs and it was discovered a shockwave was effectively creating an aerodynamic shadow around much of the elevator, the part of the horizontal tail responsible for pitching the airplane up and down. Engineers made minor changes to the tail so the entire horizontal surface could be more easily controlled by the pilot instead of just the trailing edge. This has been standard on all supersonic aircraft ever since.


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