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Flightline Friday: the lamentable Bell X-2 revisited October 8, 2015

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Flightline Friday, foolishness, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.

Since I didn’t get to a Flightline Friday last week, I’ll try to kick out a double this week.

I did one of the first Flightline Fridays ever on Brig. Gen. Frank K. “Pete” Everest, USAF, Ret., way back in 2011.  For the latter half of the ’50s, Pete Everest was known as the “fastest man alive.”  That’s because he had successfully flown the temperamental, problematic Bell X-2 out to Mach 2.9 in 1956.  Mel Apt had actually gone faster, Mach 3.2, but died in the attempt.

The X-2 had been created as a follow-on to the X-1 series of planes that had so famously broken the sound barrier and done much, much more (most people don’t know, there were actually 7 X-1s built, of varying models and capabilities).  Chuck Yeager had gone Mach 2.53 in the X-1A and almost died trying.  Kit Murray had not over 90,000 ft.  But in the race for space at that time, there always had to be another faster, better, higher plane on the drawing board (unlike today).  The Bell X-2 was expected to go past Mach 3.

However, Bell had the bad luck to suggest a dying Curtiss-Wright corporation for the complex new rocket engine.  It was 4 years late.  By the time the Bell X-2 was finally ready to begin powered flight, one had already been lost in a mysterious inflight explosion, and there were already service jets like the F-104 and F-105 nipping at its speed capabilities (well…….Mach 2.2-3) on a daily basis.  Time was running out on the program to make a useful contribution, since the infinitely more capable and refined North American X-15 was already on the way.

So, a hurried flight test program was conducted between March and September 1956, when the second aircraft was lost with Apt.  It was later determined that the X-2 was perhaps the worst possible way to go after Mach 3 – hugely insufficient lateral (right left) control, wings that bent under load and caused huge variances in handling characteristics (you don’t want a long, thin wing to go much past Mach 2), a faulty ejection system.  It was really behind the times even when it finally flew – wind tunnels had confirmed the design, so advanced when first conceptualized in the late 40s, was a dead end.

Some cool vids on the X-2 below.  There are whole DVDd on some really cool aircraft available from rocket.aero, if anyone wanted to stuff my stocking with them I certainly wouldn’t refuse.

The first vid gives an overview of the X-2 program and shows the Model A Ford that was passed on from one “hottest” test pilot at Edwards to another for about 20 years.  Pete Everest had it in ’56, Bob White had it later:

Gives a bunch of other data:

Video of the first flight:

Ivan Kincheloe’s record setting high-altitude flight (126,500 ft – 24 miles):

Unfortunately, they don’t have any footage uploaded of Pete Everest’s Mach 2.9 flight.

Going off topic a bit, the a PR “flight test report” produced by Bell Aircraft for the X-1A:

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