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Bell X-2 (Starbuster)

United States (1955)
Picture of Bell X-2 (Starbuster) Experimental Research Aircraft

Like other American 1950s research aircraft, the Bell X-2 proved critical in furthering the frontiers of powered, manned high-speed flight.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Bell X-2 (Starbuster) Experimental Research Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 10/24/2017. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com

Bell Aircraft Company was once again contracted by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and the United States Air Force (USAF) to provide a high-speed, rocket-powered research aircraft following their success with the Bell X-1 project of the late 1940s. This provided the impetus for the subsequent Bell X-2 to appear in the mid-1950s and continue the rigorous flight testing regime into the Mach 2 / Mach 3 speed range. The X-2 was essentially an evolved, more capable version of the X-1. A pair of X-2 aircraft were completed for the tests ahead and the product nicknamed "Starbuster".

To power the new aircraft the two-chamber, variable thrust Curtiss-Wright XLR-25 rocket engine of up to 15,000 lb output was installed and mated to throttle controls (controls which the X-1 lacked). Aerodynamic refinements were present about the sleeker, slimmer fuselage and a low-mounted, swept-wing mainplane assembly was used (unlike the straight wings of the X-1). The tail remained a single vertical fin with mid-mounted horizontal planes though all leading edges were also swept.

As with the X-1, the X-2 was an air-launched vehicle though this time a specially-modified Boeing B-50 Superfortress substituted for the original B-29 mothership. Also as in the X-1, the X-2 completed its first test flights solely under glide power with the first undertaken on June 27th, 1952 - landings aided by an integrated wheeled undercarriage arrangement. The first rocket-powered flight did not come until November 18th, 1955.
The X-2 became a record setter in its own right when it achieved a new speed record of Mach 2.87. It also became the first powered, manned aircraft to break the 100,000 foot altitude ceiling when it reached 126,200 feet on September 7th, 1956 (test pilot Iven Kincheloe at the controls). With some modifications added for Mach 3+ flight controlling, the X-2 then became the first aircraft to exceed Mach 3.0 on September 27th, 1956 (test pilot Milburn Apt). However, during this same flight, the aircraft experienced "inertia coupling" which spun the rocket plane out of control, killing Apt during his attempted ejection on May 12th, 1953.

Apt's death delayed further work involving the X-2 and the product was formally written off altogether in anticipation of the arrival of the more advanced North American X-15 rocket research aircraft arriving in the late part of the decade. Three of its kind would be built and the program would provide additional high speed data until its retirement in December of 1968.

As it stood, only the first X-2 prototype achieved any powered flights - 10 total - with seven glide flights to its name from the period of June 1952 to September 1956. The second prototype never completed its only powered flight and added three glide flights to its record before the end.






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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 5000mph
Lo: 2500mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (2,094mph).

    Graph average of 3750 miles-per-hour.
Aviation Era
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Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units
2
2


  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.


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Origin: United States
Year: 1955
Type: Experimental Research Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Bell Aircraft - USA
Production: 2
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Global Operators:
United States
Historical Commitments / Honors:

Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Bell X-2 (Starbuster) model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.

Operational
CREW


Personnel
1


Dimension
LENGTH


Feet
37.73 ft


Meters
11.5 m


Dimension
WIDTH


Feet
32.15 ft


Meters
9.8 m


Dimension
HEIGHT


Feet
11.81 ft


Meters
3.6 m


Weight
EMPTY


Pounds
12,346 lb


Kilograms
5,600 kg


Weight
LOADED


Pounds
24,912 lb


Kilograms
11,300 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
1 x Curtiss-Wright XLR25 rocket engine developing 15,000 lb of thrust.

Performance
SPEED


Miles-per-Hour
2,094 mph


Kilometers-per-Hour
3,370 kph


Knots
1,820 kts


Performance
CEILING


Feet
126,198 ft


Meters
38,465 m


Miles
23.90 mi

Armament - Hardpoints (0):

None. Internal provision housing flight data and test equipment.
Variants: Series Model Variants
• X-2 - Base Series Designation; two examples completed with the second aircraft lost to an in-flight accident.