8 October 1954

Captain Arthur W. Murray, U.S. Air Force (1918–2011). Murray is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with K-1 helmet for high altitude flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Arthur W. Murray, U.S. Air Force (1918–2011). Murray is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit. (U.S. Air Force)

8 October 1954: After two earlier glide flights flown by test pilot Jack Ridley, Captain Arthur Warren (“Kit”) Murray, U.S. Air Force, made the first powered flight of the Bell Aircraft Corporation X-1B rocket-powered supersonic research aircraft, serial number 48-1385.

Five months earlier, Murray had flown the X-1A to an altitude of 90,440 feet (25,570 meters). He was the first pilot to fly high enough to see the curvature of the Earth and a dark sky at mid day.

The X-1B was the third in a series of experimental X-1 rocketplane variants built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation for the United States Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), for research into supersonic flight. It was fitted with 300 thermocouples to measure aerodynamic heating. It was the first aircraft equipped with a pilot-controlled reaction control system which allowed for maneuvering the aircraft at high altitudes where normal aerodynamic controls were no longer effective.

NACA 800, a modified Boeing B-29 Superfortress, 45-21800, with the Bell X-1B, at Edwards Air Force Base, 8 April 1958. (NASA)
NACA 800, a modified Boeing B-29 Superfortress, 45-21800, with the Bell X-1B, at Edwards Air Force Base, 9 April 1958. (NASA)

Like the X-1 and X-1A, the X-1B was carried by a modified four-engine B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber (B-29-96-BW 45-21800), before being airdropped at altitudes of 25,000 to 35,000 feet (7,620 to 10,668 meters) near Edwards Air Force Base, California. After its fuel was expended, the pilot would glide for a landing on Rogers Dry Lake.

The X-1B was 35 feet, 7 inches (10.846 meters) long with a wing span of 28 feet (8.53 meters). Its loaded weight was 16,590 pounds (7,520 kilograms). The X-1B was powered by a Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-6 four-chamber rocket engine, fueled with a mixture of water and alcohol with liquid oxygen. It produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.689 kilonewtons. The XLR11 was 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters) long, 1 foot, 7 inches (0.483 meters) in diameter, and weighed 210 pounds (95 kilograms). Each of the four thrust chambers were 1 foot, 9¾ inches (0.552 meters) long and 6 inches (0.152 meters) in diameter.

The rocket plane was designed to reach 1,650 miles per hour (2,655 kilometers per hour) and 90,000 feet (27,432 meters).

Bell X-1B (Bell Aircraft Corporation)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 (U.S. Air Force)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 on Rogers Dry Lake (NASA E-2547)
Bell X-1B on Rogers Dry Lake (NASA)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 on Rogers Dry Lake (NASA)

This was Kit Murray’s only flight in the X-1B. After being flown by a number of other Air Force test pilots, including Stuart Childs and Frank Everest, the rocketplane was turned over to NACA for the continued flight test program. NACA research pilots John McKay and Neil Armstrong made those flights.

X-1B 48-1385 made 27 flights. It was retired in January 1958. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Bell X-1B 46-1385 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 30 July 1958. (NASA)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 30 July 1958. (NASA)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 30 July 1958. (NASA)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 30 July 1958. (NASA)

Arthur Warren Murray was born at Cresson, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, 26 December 1918. He was the first of two children of Charles Chester Murray, a clerk, and Elsie Espy Murray.

Arthur Murray attended Huntingdon High School, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, graduating 4 June 1936, and then studied Juniata College, also in Huntingdon, 1937–1938.

Kit Murray enlisted in the Field Artillery, Pennsylvania National Guard, 17 November 1939. (Some sources state that he served in the U.S. Cavalry.) Murray had brown hair and blue eyes, was 5 feet, 10 inches (1.78 meters) tall and weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms). Following the United States’ entry into World War II, Sergeant Murray requested to be trained as a pilot. He was appointed a flight officer (a warrant officer rank), Army of the United States, on 5 December 1942. On 15 October 1943 Flight Officer Murray received a battlefield promotion to the commissioned rank of second lieutenant, A.U.S.

Between 6 January and 22 October 1943, Murray flew over 50 combat missions in the Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk across North Africa. After about ten months in the Mediterranean Theater, he returned to the United States, assigned as an instructor flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter bomber, stationed at Bradley Field, Hartford, Connecticut.

Lieutenant Murray married Miss Elizabeth Anne Strelic, who had immigrated from Czechoslovakia with her family as an infant, at Atlantic City, New Jersey, 29 December 1943. They would have six children, and foster a seventh. They later divorced. (Mrs. Murray died in 1980.)

Murray was promoted to 1st lieutenant, A.U.S., 8 August 1944. His next assignment was as a maintenance officer. He was sent to Maintenance Engineering School at Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illinois, and from there to the Flight Test School at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.

Murray was the first test pilot to be permanently assigned to Muroc Army Air Field (later, Edwards Air Force Base). Other test pilots, such as Captain Chuck Yeager, were assigned to Wright Field and traveled to Muroc as necessary.

Murray’s A.U.S. commission was converted to first lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, on 19 June 1947, with date of rank retroactive to 15 October 1946. The U.S. Air Force became a separate military service in 1947, and Lieutenant Murray became an officer in the new service.

Colonel Arthur Warren (“Kit”) Murray, U.S. Air Force.

Later, 1958–1960, Major Murray was the U.S. Air Force project officer for the North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane at Wright Field.

Colonel Murray retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1961. He next worked for Boeing in Seattle, Washington, from 1961 to 1969, and then Bell Helicopter in Texas.

On 4 April 1975, Kit Murray married his second wife, Ms. Ann Tackitt Humphreys, an interior decorator, in Tarrant County, Texas.

Colonel Arthur Warren Murray, United States Air Force (Retired), died at West, Texas, 25 July 2011, at the age of 92 years.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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About Bryan Swopes

Bryan R. Swopes grew up in Southern California in the 1950s–60s, near the center of America's aerospace industry. He has had a life-long interest in aviation and space flight. Bryan is a retired commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor.

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