The Return of the X-Planes

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NASA's Five Coolest X-Planes

Seventy years ago next October, U.S. Air Force flight officer Chuck Yeager became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound. He accomplished the historic feat at the helm of the Bell X-1 aircraft, the first of the now legendary line of X-planes.

At the time, the X-Plane program was under the purview of NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Sound familiar? It should. In 1958, spurred by the launch of the Soviet Union's satellite Sputnik, the Federal Government transformed NACA into NASA. With the change of a single letter, the organization's scope expanded beyond Earth's atmosphere into space.

In many ways, it was the X-plane program that made possible such an audacious transformation. At the time, NASA's X-2 was capable of flying more than 2,000 miles per hour at an altitude of 65,500 feet. Thanks to the X-planes, space seemed just a jump, skip, and a hop away.

Earlier this month, after a ten-year hiatus, NASA introduced its newest X-plane, the X-57 Maxwell -- an all-electric aircraft powered only by batteries (shown above) -- along with a plan to build even more ambitious X-planes over the next decade. To salute this exciting announcement, let's take a look back at five of NASA's most incredible X-planes.

(Image: NASA)

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