The Bell X-1 is one of aviation history’s most important—and interesting—aircraft. Everyone knows Chuck Yeager flew it to establish the first record-breaking flight beyond Mach 1, but there’s much more to the airplane than that. In this long-form video, AVweb’s Paul Bertorelli uses a fantastic drawing of the X-1 panel by aviation artist Jean-Luc Beghin to explain the X-1’s systems and details. Stunning imagery from the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum fills in many of the fascinating details.


  1. Great video, Paul. It shows that the simple looking X-1 was actually a very complex machine that would have been a handful to fly. Obviously, Yeager and the other test pilots really had “the right stuff”.

    • Some believe Bell test pilot Chalmers “Slick” Goodlin was actually the first to break the sound barrier, despite the many conflicting stories. Lots of politics and publicity involved as always.

      • Eric, I was a personal friend of Slick, and he told me point blank that he never flew super sonic. On one of his last flights the ground heard a noise and some assumed it was him breaking the sound barrier. The Mach meter or recording graphs verified he did not.

  2. Paul–what a great tutorial! I’ve read a number of books and articles on the project, but NONE have measured up to your relatively short video.

    You deserve a THANK YOU from the entire aviation community!

  3. > Obviously, Yeager and the other test pilots really had “the right stuff”.

    Yeager especially, since he grew up around oil field equipment and became a mechanic before a pilot, which helped with the temperamental X-1 rocket engine.

    One of the advantages the US had over Japan in WW2 was that Americans in general had more education and farm equipment experience, so almost anybody could be a pilot applicant. Japan however recruited applicants at 14 yo like ninjas, and lost their “ninjas” after the Coral Sea and Midway battles. (The Axis militaries also flew their pilots until they died, whereas the US recycled them back home as instructor pilots.) Only 29 planes were shot down at Pearl Harbor, but that might be more significant than realized since the pre-war naval aviator classes only had 100 students per year, and about 10 washed out.

  4. Always enjoy your articles, informative and interesting. This video was terrific. You exposed so much info in a concise program that any aviation buff would enjoy. Especially liked your cameo of the turbo pump discussion. Keep up the great work.

  5. Paul, excellent job. There was a new book written called “ Goodlin and the Bell XS-1 by Roy Lindberg “ it is for sale at the Niagara Aerospace Museum. Extensive research from the Bell Aircraft archives, inter office memos from Wright Field, and documents from Chalmers Goodlin personal files correct the records and false statements about Slick demanding $150K to fly the aircraft in Phase 3 of the flight test program. It also details his career. One of America’s greatest test pilots who reputation was tarnished by egos.

  6. The Niagara Aerospace Museum was selected by Slick Goodlin to be the recipient of his personal artifacts. On display for example is his flight gear from his last X-1 flight, SETP certificate, photographs, etc.

    Niagara Aerospace Museum
    Niagara Falls Intl. Airport
    9990 Porter Road
    Niagara Falls, New York 14304

  7. Excellent! Just like the X-1 was much more complex than it appeared, the background of putting together the video had to have been pretty complex to get to the finished product. Very impressive.

  8. Superb video Paul and thank you for the time and effort putting it together. Fascinating when one considers this aircraft (as well as most Kelly Johnson designs) were designed using slide rules and protractors!