25 January 1946

Jack Valentine Woolams, Chief Experimental Test Pilot, Bell Aircraft Corporation. (John Trudell/Ancestry)

25 January 1946:¹ Near Pinecastle Army Airfield in central Florida, Bell Aircraft Corporation Senior Experimental Test Pilot Jack Woolams made the first unpowered glide flight of the XS-1 supersonic research rocketplane, 46-062.

46-062 was the first of three XS-1 rocketplanes built by Bell for the U.S. Army Air Corps and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to explore flight at speeds at and beyond Mach 1, the speed of sound. The airplane had been rolled out of Bell’s plant at Buffalo, New York, on 27 December 1945. The rocket engine, which was being developed by Reaction Motors, Inc., at Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, was not ready, so the experimental aircraft was carrying ballast in its place for the initial flight tests.

Jack Woolams with the second Bell XS-1, 46-063. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The XS-1 was to be air-dropped from altitude by a modified heavy bomber so that its fuel could be used for acceleration to high speeds at altitude, rather than expended climbing from the surface. Bell manufactured B-29B Superfortresses at its Atlanta, Georgia, plant and was therefore very familiar with its capabilities. A B-29, 45-21800, was selected as the drop ship and modified to carry the rocketplane in its bomb bay.

Boeing B-29-96-BW Superfortress 45-21800 carries a Bell XS-1 rocketplane. (Bell Aircraft Museum)

Pinecastle Army Airfield was chosen as the site of the first flight tests because it had a 10,000 foot (3,048 meter) runway and was fairly remote. There was an adjacent bombing range and the base was a proving ground for such aircraft as the Consolidated B-32 Dominator. (Today, Pinecastle A.A.F. is known as Orlando International Airport, MCO.)

Bell XS-1 46-062 was placed in a pit at Pinecastle A.A.F. so that the B-29 drop ship in the background could be positioned over it. (NASA)
Bell XS-1 46-062 was placed in a pit at Pinecastle A.A.F. so that the B-29 drop ship in the background could be positioned over it. (NASA)

The B-29 carrying the XS-1 took off from Pinecastle at 11:15 a.m., and began its climb to altitude. Woolams was in the forward crew compartment. As the bomber reached approximately 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), he entered the bomb bay and climbed down into the cockpit of the research aircraft. At the drop altitude, the B-29 was flying at 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour) with the inboard propellers feathered and flaps lowered to 20°.

The XS-1 dropped away smoothly. Woolams flew the rocketplane to a maximum 275 miles per hour (443 kilometers per hour), indicated air speed, during this first glide test. He described the rocketplane as, “solid as a rock, experiencing absolutely no vibration or noise. At the same time, it felt as light as a feather during maneuvers due to the lightness, effectiveness and nice balance between the controls.” Woolams described the visibility from the cockpit as “not good, but adequate.”

The duration of the first glide flight was about ten minutes. Woolams misjudged his approach to Pinecastle and landed slightly short of the runway, on the grass shoulder, but the XS-1 was not damaged.

The conclusion of Woolams’ flight report is highly complementary of the experimental airplane:

11.  Of all the airplanes the writer has flown, only the XP-77 and the Heinkel 162 compare with the XS-1 for maneuverability, control relationship, response to control movements, and lightness of control forces. Although these impressions were rather hastily gained during a flight which lasted only 10 minutes, it is the writer’s opinion that due to these factors and adding to them the security which the pilot feels due to the ruggedness, noiselessness, and smoothness of response of this airplane, it is the most delightful to fly of them all.

—PILOT’S REPORT, Flight 1, by Jack Woolams

Jack Woolams made ten glide flights with 46-062, evaluating its handling characteristics and stability. The aircraft was returned to Bell to have the rocket engine installed, and it was then sent to Muroc Army Airfield in the high desert of southern California for powered flight tests. (Muroc A.A.F. was renamed Edwards Air Force Base in 1949.)

Bell XS-1 46-062 was later named Glamorous Glennis by its military test pilot, Captain Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps. On 14 October 1947, Chuck Yeager flew it to Mach 1.06 at 13,115 meters (43,030 feet). Today the experimental aircraft is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

The Bell XS-1, later re-designated X-1, was the first of a series of rocket-powered research airplanes which included the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, the Bell X-2, and the North American Aviation X-15, which were flown by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, NACA and its successor, NASA, at Edwards Air Force Base to explore supersonic and hypersonic flight and at altitudes to and beyond the limits of Earth’s atmosphere.

An X-1 under construction at teh Bell Aircraft Corporation plant, Buffalo, New York. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)
An X-1 under construction at the Bell Aircraft Corporation plant, Buffalo, New York. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)

The X-1 has an ogive nose, similar to the shape of a .50-caliber machine gun bullet, and has straight wings and tail surfaces. It is 30 feet, 10.98 inches (9.423 meters) long with a wing span of 28.00 feet (8.534 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 10.20 inches (3.307 meters).

46-062 was built with a thin 8% aspect ratio wing, while 46-063 had a 10% thick wing. The wings were tapered, having a root chord of 6 feet, 2.2 inches (1.885 meters) and tip chord of 3 feet, 1.1 inches (0.942 meters), resulting in a total area of 130 square feet (12.1 square meters). The wings have an angle of incidence of 2.5° with -1.0° twist and 0° dihedral. The leading edges are swept aft 5.05°.

The horizontal stabilizer has a span of 11.4 feet (3.475 meters) and an area of 26.0 square feet (2.42 square meters). 062’s stabilizer has an aspect ratio of 6%, and 063’s, 5%.

The fuselage cross section is circular. At its widest point, the diameter of the X-1 fuselage is 4 feet, 7 inches (1.397 meters).

46-062 had an empty weight is 6,784.9 pounds (3,077.6 kilograms), but loaded with propellant, oxidizer and its pilot with his equipment, the weight increased to 13,034 pounds (5,912 kilograms).

The X-1 was designed to withstand an ultimate structural load of 18g.

Front view of a Bell XS-1 supersonic research rocketplane at the Bell Aircraft plant, Buffalo, New York. (Bell Aircraft Museum)

The X-1 was powered by a four-chamber Reaction Motors, Inc., 6000C4 (XLR11-RM-3 ) rocket engine which produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (26,689 Newtons). This engine burned a 75/25 mixture of ethyl alcohol and water with liquid oxygen. Fuel capacity is 293 gallons (1,109 liters) of water/alcohol and 311 gallons (1,177 liters) of liquid oxygen. The fuel system was pressurized by nitrogen at 1,500 pounds per square inch (103.4 Bar).

The X-1 was usually dropped from the B-29 flying at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and 345 miles per hour (555 kilometers per hour). It fell as much as 1,000 feet (305 meters) before beginning to climb under its own power.

The X-1’s performance was limited by its fuel capacity. Flying at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters), it could reach 916 miles per hour (1,474 kilometers per hour), but at 70,000 feet (21,336 meters) the maximum speed that could be reached was 898 miles per hour (1,445 kilometers per hour). During a maximum climb, fuel would be exhausted as the X-1 reached 74,800 feet (2,799 meters). The absolute ceiling is 87,750 feet (26,746 meters).

Bell X-1 46-062 on the dry lake bed at Muroc Army Airfield, circa 1947. (NASM)

The X-1 had a minimum landing speed of 135 miles per hour (217 kilometers per hour) using 60% flaps.

There were 157 flights with the three X-1 rocket planes. The number one ship, 46-062, Glamorous Glennis, made 78 flights. On 26 March 1948, with Chuck Yeager again in the cockpit, it reached reached Mach 1.45 (957 miles per hour/1,540 kilometers per hour) at 71,900 feet (21,915 meters).

The third X-1, 46-064, made just one glide flight before it was destroyed 9 November 1951 in an accidental explosion.

The second X-1, 46-063, was later modified to the X-1E. It is on display at the NASA Dryden Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. Glamorous Glennis is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, next to Charles A. Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis.

Bell X-1, 46-062, Glamorous Glennis, on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. (NASM)
Bell X-1 46-062, Glamorous Glennis, on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. (NASM)

Jack Valentine Woolams was born on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 1917, at San Francisco, California. He was the second of three children of Leonard Alfred Woolams, a corporate comptroller, and Elsa Mathilda Cellarius Woolams. He grew up in San Rafael, California, and graduated from Tamalpais School in 1935.

Jack Woolams, 1941

After two years of study at The University of Chicago, in 1937 Woolams entered the Air Corps, U.S. Army, as an aviation cadet. He trained as a pilot at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. On graduation, 16 June 1938, he was discharged as an aviation cadet and commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve. He was assigned to Barksdale Army Air Field, Louisiana, where he flew the Boeing P-26 and Curtiss P-36 Hawk.

On 10 February 1939, Lieutenant Woolams was one of three Air Corps officers thrown into the waters of Cross Lake, near Shreveport, Louisiana, when the boat, owned by Woolams, capsized in 4 foot (1.2 meters) waves. Woolams and Lieutenant J.E. Bowen were rescued after 4 hours in the water, but the third man, Lieutenant Wilbur D. Camp, died of exposure.

Lieutenant Woolams transferred from active duty to inactive reserve status in September 1939 in order to pursue his college education at The University of Chicago, where he was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi (ΑΔΦ) fraternity. While at U. of C., he played on the university’s football and baseball teams, and was a member of the dramatic society. Woolams graduated 18 July 1941 with a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree in Economics.

Mr. and Mrs. Jack V. Woolams, 16 June1941. (Unattributed)

Jack Woolams married Miss Mary Margaret Mayer at the bride’s home in Riverside, Illinois, 16 June 1941. They would have three children. Miss Mayer was also a 1941 graduate from the University of Chicago. She had been Woolams’ student in the Civilian Pilot Training Program.

Woolams became a production test pilot for the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Buffalo, New York. He tested newly-built Bell P-39 Airacobra fighters. As he became more experienced, he transitioned to experimental testing with the P-39, P-63 King Cobra, and the jet-powered P-59 Airacomet.

Jack Valentine Woolams, Chief Experimental Test Pilot, Bell Aircraft Corporation, circa 1946. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

On 28 September 1942, Jack Woolams flew a highly-modified Bell P-39D-1-BE Airacobra, 41-38287, from March Field, near Riverside, California, to Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., non-stop. The duration of the flight was approximately 11 hours. The modifications were intended to allow P-39s to be flown across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii and on to the Soviet Union for delivery under Lend Lease.

During the summer of 1943, Woolams flew the first Bell YP-59A Airacomet, 42-108771, to an altitude of 47,600 feet (14,508 meters) near Muroc Army Air Field in California.

On 5 January 1945, Woolams was forced to bail out of a Bell P-59A-1-BE, 44-22616. He suffered a deep laceration to his head as he left the airplane. He lost his flight boots when the parachute opened, and on landing, had to walk barefoot through knee-deep snow for several miles to reach a farm house. The deep snow prevented the company’s ambulance from getting to Woolams. Bell Aircraft president Lawrence D. Bell sent the company’s second prototype Bell Model 30 helicopter, NX41868, flown by test pilot Floyd Carlson, to transport a doctor, J.A. Marriott, M.D., to the location. Another Bell test pilot, Joe Mashman, circled overhead in a P-63 King Cobra to provide a communications link. Later in the day, an ambulance was able to get through the snow to take Woolams to a hospital.

Wreckage of Bell P-59A-1-BE Airacomet 44-22616. Jack Woolams bailed out of this airplane 5 January 1945. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

Woolams was scheduled to make the first powered flight of the XS-1 during October 1946.

Jack Woolams was killed Friday, 30 August 1946, when his red Thompson Trophy racer, Cobra I, a modified 2,000-horsepower Bell P-39Q Airacobra, crashed into Lake Ontario at over 400 miles per hour. His body was recovered by the U.S. Coast Guard four days later.

Bell Aircraft Corporation experimental test pilots Jack Woolams and Tex Johnston with their modified Bell P-39Q Airacobras, Cobra I and Cobra II. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

¹ This article was originally dated 19 January 1946. There were known discrepancies as to the date of the first flight from various reliable sources. Recently discovered test flight reports, provided to TDiA by Mr. Roy T. Lindberg, Historian of the Niagara Aerospace Museum, Niagara Falls, New York, have confirmed that the date of the first flight was actually 25 January 1946. The article has been been revised accordingly, as well as to incorporate new information from these reports.

TDiA is indebted to Mr. Lindberg for providing this and other documentation.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 thoughts on “25 January 1946

  1. 19 January 1946 was not the first flight of the XS-1. The first glide flight was 25 January 1946; Source : Into the Unknown – The X-1 Story by Louis Rotundo. page 63. The first glide flight was conducted Friday morning January 25th

    January 19, 1946 “No Bell personnel were present etc.” page 56 “Into the Unknown” On January 19, 1946 the NACA delegation flew to Pinecastle in preparation for the first flight. A procedural review was conducted on that day.

    From NASA Dryden History: “The #1 aircraft made its first ten flights at Pinecastle Army Air Field between January 25, and March 6, 1945”

    Although I am loath to use Wikipedia as a sole source: “Bell Aircraft chief test pilot Jack Woolams became the first person to fly the XS-1. He made a glide-flight over Pinecastle Army Airfield, in Florida, on 25 January 1946.”

    1. Thank you, Roy. I appreciate your input. There seems to be a discrepancy, here. The “NASA Armstrong Fact Sheet: First Generation X-1,” dated 28 February 2014, states: “The first glide flight of the X-1 occurred on Jan. 19, 1946, at Pinecastle Field, FL, by Bell test pilot Jack Woolams.” (The Dryden history you quote is dated 9 October 2008.) According to On the Frontier: Flight Research at Dryden, 1946–1981, by R.P. Hallion, NASA SP-4303, Part I: Exploring the Supersonic Frontier: 1944–1959, Chapter 1: The Speed of Sound, at Page 9, “The orange XS-1 completed its first glide flight on 19 January 1946, piloted by Bell test pilot Jack Woolams.” Astronautix gives 19 January 1946 as the first XS-1 flight. I agree with you re: Wikipedia, but must point out that it states in its List of X-1 Flights, “XS-1 #1 January 19, 1946 Jack Woolams 46-062 Bell 1 #1 Pinecastle AAF Base, FL. Glide flight.” Of course, the “final fact check” is to enter “Bell X-1 first flight” as a search term for Google. The answer: “Bell X-1/First flight January 19, 1946”. . . . I wonder if NASM has the original flight logs for 46-062?

      1. We have two primary sources. (1) NASA formerly NACA who’s personnel were on the ground for the pre-flight check 19 January 1946. https://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/history/HistoricAircraft/X-1/fltsummary.html (2) The X-1 by Louis Rotundo and footnote 13, Chapter 2. The date is from Jack Woolams’ official Pilot Report #1 to Bell Aircraft Corporation. This information is supplemented Williams memo of February 1, 1946, and the Dow flight log. i.e. Walter Williams and Harold Dow.

        The Niagara Aerospace Museum used the 19 January 1946 date and has posted it to their web page using your date as a source.

      2. Finally, I may be able to obtain a copy of Jack Woolam’s flight #1 test report. IF I can get that report I will scan the report and email you a copy for your information and files. Louis Rotundo, author of “THE X-1 Story” may also have a copy of that report.

        1. That would be fantastic, Roy. Thanks very much. Many, many hours are spent trying to verify details like this, and I really want to be as accurate as possible. A test pilot’s (or engineer’s) report, or the aircraft logbook would be ideal. I recently saw on the Internet that someone was trying to locate Woolams’ logbooks. . . Another date that has proven very difficult to nail down is that of the first flight of the Bell XH-40. I checked with the Army Aviation Museum, but their earliest records for the prototype are dated 2 May 1958, when the helicopter had 225.8 hours TTAF. The range of dates seems to be October 20–26, with most saying the 22nd. The problem there is that so many sources on the Internet are just repeating another Internet source, but no one seems to have actual any documentation.

          1. I know the person who may be able to help you out. He has an extensive archive of Bell helicopters, owns a restored Bell helicopter that is in a hanger at Niagara Falls Airport and is part owner of Rainbow Air the helicopter service that flies over Niagara Falls. This person has a commercial pilots licence and many hours of flight time. I’ll copy and past your comment and get back to you if and when we get a reply.

          2. This from my primary source.

            “The Bell XH-40, serial number 1 made its maiden flight by Floyd Carlson on October 20, 1956. When Floyd Carlson landed he was advised by the flight test crew that they were just informed that Larry Bell had passed away.
            In my files I have a list of the flights from Bell Texas as well. This is also verified by the Carlson family.”

            Also this confirms information that can be found in the book “Bell Aircraft since 1935” by A.J. Pellitier 1992, pg. 108.

            NOTE: The information in the above book also has the aircraft s/n 55-4459. Specifically {XH-40-BF (c-n 1, s/n 55-4459)}

  2. Great article that I enjoyed reading very much. The colored pictures of the P-39’s is amazing. Is that at the NF Bell plant?

    1. I believe these are the hangers opposite of the Bell Aircraft (Bell Aerospace) plant in Niagara Falls.
      Literally the hangers are 100 yards from the Bell plant. Today these same hangers are collapsing. The Bell plant is intact today but largely vacant.

      R. Lindberg, Volunteer, Niagara Aerospace Museum.

  3. Bryan, the director of The Niagara Aerospace Museum is in contact with Jack Woolams’ daughter who informed him Monday 1/29 that she just found a seven (7) page autobiography of Jack Woolams; her father. The autobiography should be a very interesting and important document. We are continuing to look for Woolams’ “Flight Test Report #1” for the XS-1. We will keep you informed.

  4. The Niagara Aerospace Museum received a copy of Jack Woolams’ XS-1 Test Flight #1 Report yesterday, January 31. We are awaiting copies of Jack Woolams’ autobiography his daughter found last week. In addition NASM is sending a packet of Woolams’ documents we should have within the week.

      1. Bryan, you have my email address. I can scan and email you documents from our Woolams files e.g. autobiography, Flight Test #1 etc. We are expecting more information from the family and other sources within the next week.

        Volunteer, Niagara Aerospace Museum

  5. Thanks everyone for the interesting article! Can anyone pinpoint the street address where each Bell X plane was assembled ! I do know that the first jet was developed in the old Ford Plant on Halbert St. @ Phelps St. Buffalo.

  6. First, I never knew this story, or about Woolams. Second, “Jack Valentine Woolams” sounds like a Hollywood name. Third, that photo of Woolams wearing the A2 jacket and white silk scarf looks like its from a Hollywood depiction of what a test pilot would look like in the 1940s. Finally, the “remote” Pinecastle Army Airfield (later SAC base McCoy AFB) today is Orlando International Airport, anything but remote (at least to its north and west) today.

    I Googled Woolams and read his Wikipedia page. Apparently, he did crazy things like sneaking up on propeller fighter airplane formations in an experimental P-59 jet fighter while wearing a gorilla mask , bowler hat, and cigar. Talk about Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. The pilots of those training flights probably had no idea what a jet was. To see an airplane flying without propellers (flown by a gorilla wearing a hat) must have blown their minds.

    While I know a little of the history of old air force bases, it almost requires suspending disbelief to think of Orlando, home of theme parks today, as a remote backwater. Then again, Silicon Valley started out that way as well.

    This is an incredible story. A larger than life test pilot. A different time. Would be worth a movie, at least a Netflix or Amazon Prime original.

  7. A minor point, but one that should be included, Glamorous Glennis is currently at the Udvar Hazy Museum in Chantilly, Virginia due to extensive remodeling being done at the Smithsonian museum in downtown DC. Just saw her there in September.

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