I posted this photo earlier from the National Air & Space Museum. And it got me thinking. Exactly what do these aircraft have in common? How do they differ?And what does this tell us about flight test and prizes?
So, I dug into things a bit. The results are in the table below.
Spirit of St. Louis
|Manufacturer:||Ryan Airlines||Bell Aircraft||Scaled Composites|
|First Flight:||April 28, 1927||Jan. 25, 1946||May 20, 2003|
|Final Flight:||April 30, 1928||May 12, 1950||Oct. 4, 2004|
|No. of Flights:||174 (Spirit of St. Louis)||158 (83 X-1-1, 74 X-1-2, 1 X-1-3)||14 (6 powered)|
|Total Flight Time:||489h 28m (Spirit of St. Louis)||?||4h 11m 11s|
|Major Milestone:||First solo trans-Atlantic crossing||Broke sound barrier in level flight||First private spaceflight|
|Date of Major Milestone:||May 20-21, 1927||Oct. 14, 1947||June 21, 2004|
|Pilot for Major Milestone:||Charles Lindbergh||Charles Yeager||Mike Melvill|
|Top Speed:||133 mph||957 mph (Mach 1.26)||2,170 mph (Mach 3.09)|
|Service Ceiling:||16,400 ft||71,902 ft||367,360 ft|
|Wingspan:||46 ft||28 ft||16 ft 5 in|
|Height:||9 ft 10 in||10 ft||8 ft 9.6 in|
|Length:||27 ft 7 in||30 ft 11 in||28 feet|
|Loaded Weight:||2,888 lb||12,225 lb||7,920 lb|
|Power Plant:||Wright Whirlwind J-5C||Reaction Motors XLR-11-RM3||N2O/HTPB SpaceDev hybrid|
|Predecessor:||1926 Ryan M-2||None||None|
|Successor(s) & Variant(s):||Ryan B-1 Brougham, Ryan B-7 Brougham, Ryan C-1 Brougham, Ryan B-1X Brougham||X-1A, X-1B, X-1D, X-1E, X-2||SpaceShipTwo|
|Awards Won:||$25,000 Orteig Prize||Collier Trophy||$10 million Ansari X Prize; Collier Trophy; Iven C. Kincheloe Award|
The most striking figures in the table involve the differences in the number of flights and the flight time. The Spirit of St. Louis had a total of 174 flight before it was retired to the Smithsonian Institution lasting nearly 89.5 hours. Charles Lindbergh’s Orteig Prize-winning flight took 33 hours and 30 minutes out of that total. The aircraft was flown extensively before and after the historic flight from New York to Paris.
Interestingly, an exact copy of the Spirit of St. Louis was built for the Japanese newspaper Mainichi. It apparently had a short operational history. Wikipedia reports it set a number of records in 1928 before a crash put it out of commission for good.
The X-1-1 (Glamorous Glennis) flew 83 flights over four years of operations between 1945 and 1950. The second X-1 flew an additional 74 times, while the third one had a single glide flight before it was destroyed following a captive carry. We don’t have total flight times for the three aircraft.
By contrast, SpaceShipTwo had a mere 14 flights, with six of them being powered by the ship’s hybrid engine. Three of those flights made it into space by flying higher than the 100 km Karman line. The vehicle’s total flight time is just over 4 hours 11 minutes.
This is an extraordinarily short flight test program for an experimental vehicle. Scaled Composites had originally planned to fly it after its 14th flight, which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize. However, financial backer Paul Allen decided ; he decided to ship the spacecraft to the National Air & Space Museum. He was worried that if SpaceShipOne kept flying, someone could get hurt.
The decision to end testing of SpaceShipOne after only six powered flights ended up limiting its value its successor, SpaceShipTwo. Scaled really needed a lot more flights to understand the propulsion system, how the vehicle’s composite structure held up to flight stresses, and a number of other issues.
The Spirit of St. Louis is the only aircraft of the three to have a predecessor, the 1926 Ryan M-2 mail plane. In order to extend the aircraft’s range to 4,000 miles, the wingspan was extended 10 feet and additional changes were made. The aircraft had a number of successors.
SpaceShipOne had the biggest leap to its successor. It was a small three-seat vehicle roughly the size of the X-1. SpaceShipTwo is three times larger, with room for two pilots and six passengers in the back. Engineers have had a difficult time scaling up the hybrid engine for the larger vehicle.
The X-1’s successors included the X-1A, X-1B, X-1D, X-1E and X-2. The X-1E was the rebuilt second X-1 aircraft, which was retired in 1951. The X-1E completed 26 flights between 1955 and 1958.