North American X-10
Unmanned Cruise Missile Technology Demonstrator Aircraft
At the time of its development, the unmanned North American X-10 was the fastest turbojet-powered aircraft ever flown - only one survived testing.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
North American constructed thirteen of its experimental X-10 aircraft for the United States Air Force (USAF). The product was intended to test out various functions of unmanned flight as it related to the upcoming SM-64 "Navaho" nuclear-capable cruise missile series. A first-flight was had on October 14th, 1953 and the series recorded speeds in excess of Mach 2.0 at altitudes nearing 50,000 feet. However, of the thirteen examples completed, only one aircraft survived - this sole unit on display today at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
The X-10 was given a basic aerodynamically-refined shape, mimicking that of a missile with a very slender body, pointed nosecone assembly and twin-finned tail unit. Power was from a pair of Westinghouse XJ40-WE-1 turbojet engines providing 10,900 lb of thrust each, these aspirated through semi-circular intakes along the fuselage sides. Structurally the aircraft exhibited a length of 77 feet, a wingspan of 28.1 feet and a height of 14.4 feet. Empty weight was 25,800lb against a MTOW of 42,300lb. The X-10 was fitted with a complete, retractable wheeled undercarriage configuration. Canards were fitted at the nose and were all-moving surface planes while the wing mainplanes were delta in their general shape. The tail fins were slight cranked outwards. An early-form computer-based processing system provided the necessary corrections to the inherently unstable design during flight.
The X-10 was known under the "RTV-A-5" designation to North American and saw initial design work begin in 1951. For May of 1953, the reusable air vehicle was handed over to the USAF at Edwards AFB which led to its first flight in October of that year. The X-10 quickly proved itself a sleek and fast aircraft, the fastest to be powered by turbojets at the time, and at least five X-10 examples were used in the test regime at Edwards AFB (four were lost during this phase). The program was then moved to the clear skies over Cape Canaveral, Florida where six more vehicles joined the project (with N-6 INS equipment now in place). These managed to push the program limits all the more but, again, suffered from accidents - two were lost on landing attempts. Three were deliberately crashed in dive testing.
From 1958 on, the remaining X-10 units were used in testing the tracking and engagement capabilities of the Boeing CIM-10 "BOMARC" supersonic long-range Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM). However, none were successful in this venture as two were, again, lost in landing accidents and a third expended over the Atlantic when trouble arose in flight.
During its time in the air, the X-10 managed a recorded maximum speed of 1,300 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 45,000 feet. Its rate-of-climb was 5,224 feet-per-minute. Despite the many losses incurred by the program throughout its life, the data collected proved instrumental in design of future unmanned and manned concepts - particularly fighter design where today digitally-controlled Fly-by-Wire (FBW) systems are commonplace for inherently unstable designs.