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Don Nolan-Proxmire

Headquarters, Washington, DC October 10, 1996
(Phone: 202/358-1983)

Kirsten Williams
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA
(Phone: 805/258-2662)

RELEASE: 96-204


A half-century ago this month, NASA's predecessor, the National
Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), helped launch 50
years of high desert "right stuff" with the first flight of the Bell X-1
aircraft over Southern California's Antelope Valley.

On Oct. 11, 1946, Chalmers "Slick" Goodlin, chief pilot for the Bell
Aircraft Corp., flew an unpowered, seven-minute glide test of the
second X-1, serial number 46-063, over Muroc, CA -- now the site of
Edwards Air Force Base and NASA's Dryden Flight Research
Center. Glide tests were important for studying landing
characteristics of the X-1s, as all of those aircraft landed as gliders
after their fuel was exhausted.

The second X-1 was the sister ship to vehicle No. 1, serial
number 46-062, "Glamorous Glennis," which is remembered as the
first aircraft to break the sound "barrier" on Oct. 14, 1947.

"The X-1 program provided NACA with the first full-scale tool that
allowed it to explore transonic aerodynamics," said Jay Miller,
author of "The X-Planes: X-1 to X-31."

Researchers and engineers on the X-1 program -- a joint effort
between Bell Aircraft Corp., Buffalo, NY, the United States Army Air
Forces and NACA -- were especially interested in the effects of
transonic speeds on the stability and control of aircraft.

The Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, VA,
designed the instrumentation requirements for the craft, which
included rate-of-turn recorders, pressure-distribution orifices on the
wings and tail and pedal-force transmitters, as well as other data-
gathering devices. From research acquired during earlier tests, the
committee proposed installing a movable horizontal stabilizer. This
element became crucial when Ship No. 1 reached Mach .94 and its
elevators lost their effectiveness. So important was the all-movable
horizontal stabilizer that virtually every transonic and supersonic
aircraft since that time has had one.

Bell manufactured three first-generation X-1s, originally designated
the XS-1s. Ship No. 1 flew the first unpowered glide tests at
Pinecastle Army Airfield, near Orlando, FL, in early 1946; that phase
ended in March of that year, and the program was then relocated to

"The move was a logistics issue as much as anything; Pinecastle
was not suitable," Miller said. A move to the remote California desert
ensured the project team could maintain secrecy, he said, an
important issue considering the project was classified at the time.

In addition, Muroc had an expansive landing area, thanks to the
surrounding dry lakebeds, and better visibility. "The plane's high
sink rate and the problems of keeping the plane in sight amid
Florida's frequent clouds added two more votes in favor of the [Army
Air Force's] decision to go to Muroc," historian-author Richard
Hallion wrote in his book, "On the Frontier: Flight Research at
Dryden, 1946-1981."

Walter C. Williams, an NACA engineer and later the first director
of what would become Dryden, led the team of five engineers, who
arrived at the Muroc site 50 years ago on Sept. 30. Williams had
helped implement the flight-path tracking system during the
Pinecastle flights, and, at Muroc, he and his team set up similar
equipment, including two SCR-584 radar. Although the X-1 project
most often is associated with the United States Air Force, Williams
and his NACA team provided essential hands-on support during the
program. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman awarded the Collier
Trophy to NACA's John Stack, as well as Bell's Larry Bell and the
Air Force's Chuck Yeager, emphasizing the partnership that existed
among the three groups.

The decision to move to Muroc proved to be a wise one. During
the first glide flight on Oct. 11, Goodlin landed Ship No. 2 almost
halfway down the 6,500-foot runway, continued off the runway and
rolled 4,500 feet over the dry lakebed.

On Sept. 25, 1947, the Air Force officially turned ship No. 2 over
to the NACA. NACA pilot Herbert Hoover became the first civilian to
fly an X-1 supersonically on March 10, 1948 -- at the controls of
NACA's ship No. 2.
NACA later converted the second X-1 into the X-1E, which had
thinner wings than the original aircraft, a modified canopy and other
upgrades. The first X-1 ever to fly in the Antelope Valley now stands
in front of NASA Dryden's headquarters, as the modified X-1E. That
aircraft became the last of the X-1s ever to fly on Nov. 6, 1958, with
NACA pilot Joe Walker at the controls.

The X-1 project not only provided data never before available
about the behavior of aircraft at transonic speeds, but also
pioneered the test methods that Dryden researchers have used for
50 years of successful flight research. The X-1 program proved the
ability of flight research to "separate the real from the imagined." In
the case of supersonic flight, the X-1 program proved the perceived
sound "barrier" was actually no barrier at all.