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  • Bell X-5 Jet-Powered Technology Demonstrator Fighter Aircraft

    Bell engineers studied the captured German Messerschmitt Me P.1011 fighter after World War 2 to achieve the impressive X-5 design.

     Updated: 11/3/2013; Authored By Dan Alex; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    The X-5 was an experimental single-seat, single-engine, jet-powered fighter design prototype produced by the Bell Aircraft company and became the first aircraft to make use of in-flight variable geometry wings. Its roots originated in the German Messerschmitt Me P.1101 of which the X-5 borrowed heavily from in terms of overall design. The jet-powered P.1101 was captured by American ground forces as Germany began giving up ground in the latter years of World War 2. Though the P.1101 was only 80% complete at the time of the American arrival, it made use of basic wing sweep principles to trial a variety of wing postures during its development. However, the infant German system relied on changes to the wing sweep while the aircraft was still on the ground. Only two X-5 prototypes were ever produced with the second being lost to accident. The X-5 program was being considered for an American/NATO low-cost tactical fighter initiative.

    Swing-Wing Technology

    In the X-5, the pilot was given full control of over the sweep of his aircraft's wings while in-flight. As such, he could adapt the sweep to the action at hand, be it take-off, landing or cruise - and supply more or less drag to the airframe as needed. The X-5 program went on to prove the viability inherent in such technology in accordance to increasing maximum speeds, decreasing landing speeds and assisting in a better rate-of-climb - all from one wing system. The X-5 proved helpful to the Americans in the collecting of data at these varying wing sweeps at both subsonic and transonic speeds. Such technology would become the trademarks of upcoming Cold War-era combat aircraft like the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark and the Rockwell B-1 Bomber. Additionally, the British Panavia Tornado and the Soviet MiG-23/27 would also make use of the "swing-wing" approach.

    Birth of the P.1101

    The Messerschmitt Me P.1101 itself was born out of the "Emergency Fighter Competition" instilled by the German Air Ministry (RLM) in the middle of 1944. The program essentially halted all production on bombers and instead focused on high-performance defensive-minded fighters to help defend Germany against the relentless Allied bombing campaigns wreaking havoc on her war-making infrastructure - Germany was now more or less embroiled in a defensive war and this along two major fronts. A new specification came down for the development of 2nd generation of German jet-powered fighters and Messerschmitt jumped on board within days. After two initial Messerschmitt designs were penciled, a finalized third design proposal was selected for development. The P.1101 was to have a deep fuselage to make room for the engine, applicable ductwork, the cockpit pressurization equipment, cannon armament and internal fuel. The fuselage would feature a nose-mounted intake to aspirate the Heinkel-Hirth He S 011 turbojet engine to be installed and wings were to be shoulder mounted assemblies with noticeable sweep - in fact, the wings were lifted from the revolutionary Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter-bomber. The single-seat cockpit would be fitted well ahead in the fuselage under a three-piece bubble canopy and a retractable tricycle undercarriage was utilized - the main landing gear legs coming from a Messerschmitt BF 109K fighter. The tail section was to be of a conventional type with a single vertical tail fin and applicable horizontal planes all made of wood. The tail assembly was fitted onto a tapered boom formed atop the engine exhaust port. Plans were made for cockpit armoring, carriage of four wire-guided missiles and a recessed centerline fuselage position for a single bomb.

    To help speed development of the P.1101 along, it was decided to construct the P.1101 V1 prototype alongside the wind tunnel and other data collection still ongoing. The P.1101 V1 design was also given wings that would adjust their sweep preflight and could test wing sweep at 35- and 45-degree angles. The wings were eventually set to test sweep at positions of 35-, 40- and 45-degrees. First flight was slated for sometime in June 1945 if all went as planned. All development and construction was to take place at the largely unknown Messerschmitt facility at Oberammergau nestled in the Bavarian mountains of Southern Germany. The Allies had no knowledge of the facility and therefore the area was relatively free of Allied air strikes.

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    Bell X-5 Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 1951
    Type: Jet-Powered Technology Demonstrator Fighter Aircraft
    National Origin: United States
    Manufacturer(s): Bell Aircraft - USA
    Production Total: 2

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 1
    Length: 33.14 feet (10.1 meters)
    Width: 33.46 feet (10.20 meters)
    Height: 11.81 feet (3.60 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 6,349 lb (2,880 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 10,000 lb (4,536 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): 1 x Allison J35-A-17 turbojet engine developing 4,900lbs of thrust.

    Maximum Speed: 715 mph (1,150 kph; 621 knots)
    Maximum Range: 750 miles (1,207 km)
    Service Ceiling: 49,869 feet (15,200 meters; 9.44 miles)

    Armament / Mission Payload


    Global Operators / Customers

    United States

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    X-5 - Base Prototype Designation of which only two were constructed as 50-1838 and 50-1839.