Revell 1/32 Bell X-1
I think the first time I paid attention to “Developments in Aviation” was when I saw the October 1949 edition of the National Geographic show up at our house (it helped that my two teacher grandmothers had taught me to read at age 4). I was amazed at all the color photos of the incredible airplanes. Most prominent was an orange airplane. The Bell X-1. And even more interesting was the guy in the photos. Chuck Yeager. A few years later I read about him surviving an emergency in another really fast airplane. He was easily my childhood hero.
Development of the X-1, beginning in 1944, could be taken as the first signal of the diverging interests of the U.S. and Great Britain. The British had commenced developmental work on a supersonic turbojet-powered airplane in 1942. In 1944, it became the Miles M.52, with a projected maximum speed of 1,000 mph. That year, the US and UK agreed to share data on supersonic flight. The British provided information on their research into a “variable incidence tailplane” with representatives of Bell Aviation. Bell never replied with their research and at the end of 1944, the British discovered that Bell was working on a rocket-powered supersonic design of their own. They discovered in 1945 that Bell was working to include a variable incidence tailplane in the design.
The X-1 was designed around the .50 caliber bullet since it was known that the bullet did achieve supersonic speed. The company estimated that with this design, they could achieve a speed of approximately 800 mph. Bell made nine glide tests of the airframe in 1946 before the Air Force took over the effort, declaring the company was too conservative in their approach.
Yes, it’s true (he told me so), Yeager really did bust his ribs riding a horse into the fence at Pancho Barnes’ “Happy Bottom Riding Club” outside Muroc Flight Test Center. And yes, he did use a cutoff broomstick to lock the door on his October 14, 1947 flight into history.
So, 33 years after he became my childhood hero, I met Chuck Yeager. The movie “The Right Stuff” was in production, and I managed to get an OK to do an interview with him for an aviation magazine. I was Primed With Questions. And at around 50 minutes into the interview, I had asked them all and ran out of questions (never happened before or since). Leaving the interview, I complained to the Ladd Company’s press representative who managed the meeting that I felt embarrassed. He responded, “You did a longer interview with him than anyone else, he signals me around 10 minutes when he gets bored and the interview ends at around 15 minutes. I’ve never seen him more interested in an interview.”
Two weeks later, the Ladd Company press guy called me to ask if I would like to work on the movie, as Chuck’s assistant. “He’d like to have someone he can talk to who understands things.” No problem! Of course!
Be careful what you ask for, particularly when it involves meeting your childhood hero. The good news was, I got to know my childhood hero. The bad news was, I got to know my childhood hero. When people in the aviation community I am part of heard of my good fortune, I learned some stories. Most prominent was, “The only thing that keeps Chuck Yeager allowed in civilized community is that he’s married to Glennis.”
He was what you come to expect if you hang out with “high achievers.” Yes, very capable and competent. And yes, a man with a “sour view” of humanity. Choose which you care to concentrate on. I chose the former. (Unfortunately the latter kept intruding)
He really was the “best stick ever.” I went flying with him in his Bonanza twice and it was like flying on glass. I had to look outside to know we’d actually touched down, he was so smooth. He took a shine to me. I had an Air Force high altitude card from my flight with the Wild Weasels (best roller coaster ride ever!) that was still valid, and so he asked me along on a flight in an F-5F over at Northrop (when he was testing the F-20 for them) that had us out west of Santa Catalina when the mach meter atop the instrument panel in the back seat went “bump” and registered Mach 1.02 for a moment. We landed back at Palmdale and he asked how I liked the ride. I just grinned.
The next year he was Official Bartender for the American Fighter Aces Association Convention, the best aviation weekend I ever had. With “the good housekeeping seal of approval” from Chuck, I met all the other guys I had spent my life reading about. Got drunk as a skunk at a table with Adolf Galland, Walter “Count Punski” Krupinski, Gunther Rall and Hub Zemke (listening to the two of them kid each other about Zemke shooting off Rall’s thumb and him nearly bleeding to death and they were good friends was “memorable”), Robert L. Scott Jr (who told me my article on Yeager was “the best story about a fighter pilot I’ve ever read” – I treasure that with my yet-to-be-awarded Oscar), my old friend Jimmy Goodson and Yeager was a night to remember.
The movie made a full-scale mockup of the X-1. I once tried to get into it, but my lanky 6′ size had me stuck halfway. Yeager at 5’6″ found it a tight fit. There was no way out of that airplane in an emergency. An attempted bailout through that side hatch would have had the pilot sliced in half by the wing.
I asked him about the “hypersonic tumble” in the X-1A. The airplane went out of control when the tail was blanked by the supersonic shock waves coming off the nose. Essentially, the airplane lost its tail. Dr. Richard Hallion, at the time the Edwards AFB historian, once played the tape of that flight for me. Yeager is calling for his mother, asking people to tell his wife he loves her. He’s convinced he’s going to die. He fell 50,000 feet in a minute and was knocked unconscious by the oscillations. “When I came to, I was in an inverted flat spin. Thank god! I knew how to get out of that!” (And that experience, boys and girls, is why supersonic airplanes have big tails, so they stick outside the shock waves and thus allow control.)
Unfortunately, the dark side of my childhood hero took over after the death of Glennis. And then he married the harridan from H e l l, who I am not going to name here since she cruises the net and I am not interested in dealing with her. She’s responsible for the fact he’s no longer friends with his oldest friend, C.E. “Bud” Anderson. You can read the whole sad story here: https://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Chuck-Yeager-is-in-love-Three-of-his-kids-doubt-2821681.php – yeah, a sad end to a great life. The last I heard a year ago, he’s deep in Alzheimer’s, truly the worst way for someone like him to end up. One hopes the harridan will prove herself human and stick with him to the end.
Be careful what you ask for when it comes to meeting your childhood hero.
The Revell 1/32 X-1 first came out in 1998. The kit is simple and easy to build and largely accurate, though it lacks the control housings on the horizontal stabilizer that I scratchbuilt for this kit.
That variable incidence tailplane the X-1 proved was first installed on the F-86E Sabre, giving it the ability to “bust Mach” with complete control. That ability gave the Sabre the edge it needed in combat with the MiG-15. In 1952, an F-86E crash landed on a beach in North Korea. Soviet technicians worked through the night to disassemble the airplane as a US destroyer shelled the area to try and destroy the airplane. The Russians put the wreck on several trucks and were pursued by US aircraft (hiding in tunnels) until they crossed the Yalu. The Sabre ended up in Moscow, and to this day Russian supersonic aircraft use the same system that Sabre had.
The model was resurrected from the Shelf of Doom, where it sat in its box for 15 years till I pulled it out two weeks ago and finished it. Tamiya paints, and the kit decals still worked.
13 additional images. Click to enlarge.
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