These days we pretty much take high speed flight for granted. Sixty years ago, however, high speed flight was an unknown area of aeronautics. Two separate programs were launched to investigate trans-sonic and supersonic flight. The Navy had the D-588 series of aircraft built by Douglas, while the Air Force had the X series of aircraft, led by the Bell X-1 and X-2. The D-558-1 investigated the transonic region of flight, while the D-558-2 investigated supersonic flight. The Bell X-1 first achieved supersonic flight in late 1947 while the Douglas D-558-2 was the first piloted aircraft to fly faster than Mach 2: twice the speed of sound. The Bell X-2 was designed to investigate flights at speeds above Mach 2 and even achieved Mach 3 on its final flight. James Duffy of rocket.aero has released a DVD containing footage of the D-558-1, D-558-2 and X-2 that serves as both a historical record and a great reference for modelers.
The title of the DVD, Mach 2: D-558 and X-2 could be considered a bit misleading however... the bulk of the video material is about the Bell X-2. However, the DVD-ROM portion does contain the NASA History Series document SP-4222 "Towards Mach 2: The Douglas D-558 Program" in PDF format, so that base is indeed covered. Of course, you'll need a DVD drive on your computer to access the DVD-ROM material. The videos can be played on any regular DVD player.
Two of the video tracks cover the D-558 series. The first track is about 6 and a half minutes of black and white footage of the D-558-1's High Speed Trial on August 25, 1947. There's footage of ground handling of the aircraft along with some low level passes. The second track is more black and white footage of the D-558-2 taken in the summer of 1956. This aircraft appears to be one of the jet/rocket powered variants. Included in the nine minutes or so of footage are shots of ground handling, launch from the P-2B carrier, glide and powered flight, along with some low level passes. An alternate soundtrack is included for the second video which consists of James detailing the kits that have been issued of the D-558 series.
The rest of the videos, and there are a lot of them, all concern the X-2. Starting off, there's a nine minute overview video with footage that James was not able to identify with specific flights and dates. It starts with ground handling and loading of the X-2 onto its B-50 carrier and includes launch, powered flight, landing and post landing activities. Two soundtracks are included for this video: a regular voiceover by James giving details about the X-2 program and an alternate modeler's commentary soundtrack with James again discussing the kits that have been issued.
A rather interesting five minute color video from summer 1956 shows the Templac heat sensitive paint applied to various locations on the X-2. It looks almost like a kid went nuts with colored pens all over the aircraft. The video also shows bubbled paint resulting from high speed flight. James provides some context with his audio commentary on the track.
The rest of the videos cover the most of the X-2 flights. Almost every flight is documented with a bit of film. The first glide flight is covered in a black and white Air Force documentary. You get two soundtracks with this bit of video: the original soundtrack and a commentary track with James describing how the footage is actually a composite of the first two flights. There are some good detail shots of the cockpit interior and control surface movements. The footage includes chase plane takeoff, loading of the X-2 onto the B-50 followed by takeoff, X-2 pilot ingress, launch, glide and landing. And all done in about ten and a half minutes.
The next three flights are covered with black and white footage with a voice-over by James. The videos cover launch, glide and landing, with times ranging from four to five minutes per flight.
Color footage of glide flights 5 and 7 comes next with James providing another voice-over. There's lots of good footage of loading the X-2 along with a lot of shots of the carrier aircraft in flight. Launch, glide, landing, and postlanding of both flights are shown with almost sixteen minutes of flight 5 coverage and almost nine minutes of flight 7.
The videos covering the X-2 powered flights 8 through 20 are almost all in color with James providing some narration. Video lengths range from less than a minute to over eighteen minutes and show everything from preflight ground handling to postlanding operations with lots of details for modelers to use.
Of course, every DVD these days has an 'Extras' feature and this one is no exception. Extra videos include coverage of a publicity photo session, the 22 minute documentary "Flight to the Future", video documentation of the film "Toward the Unknown", and more footage of the X-2 being loaded onto the B-50.
As mentioned above, the DVD also has ROM content which you can access via your computer. There are almost 150 photos: 720x480 screen caps from the videos, along with hi-res Air Force/NACA/Navy official photos. In addition to the NASA Doc. SP-4222 described above, also available in PDF format are NASA Technical Memorandum XM-137 about X-2 flight stability, including analysis of the final flight and a NACA Research Memorandum with an analysis of the first landing of the X-2.
I can highly recommend this DVD for anyone interested in the Bell X-2. With the video included, a modeler should be able to construct an accurate rendition of the test airplane in almost any mode of flight, from initial ground handling to the final landing. If you're looking for the definitive D-558 video, though, you'll have to keep looking, even if the footage on this disc is interesting.
Thanx to James Duffy of rocket.aero for the review copy.