DVD Review


Supersonic: The Bell X-1

DVD cover

The Bell X-1 was the first manned aircraft to exceed the speed of sound in October 1947. The newest DVD release from James Duffy at rocket.aero contains almost three hours of video pertaining to the X-1 and its later variants, the X-1A, X-1B and X-1E. The DVD is divided into three sections: the Documentaries, Early X-1 and Advanced X-1. With the exception of the Bell Aircraft Film “Flight to the Future,” all films have been cropped to a 16:9 aspect ratio. “Flight to the Future” is kept in the original 4:3 aspect ratio.

The Documentaries section contains three subsections: an original 13 minute film written, edited and narrated by James outlining the X-1 program from its wartime beginnings, through the initial glide tests at Pinecastle Army Air Field in Florida and on to the research program at Muroc Army Air Field in California. Film quality in black and white and color are quite good. The second documentary is an 18 minute US Air Force training film completely detailing how an X-1 was prepared for flight, including ground tests of the XLR-11 rocket motor. Plenty of modeling diorama ideas are in this film, including loading of the X-1 into the converted bomb bay of the B-29 mothership. There is a lot of footage of the ground support and tracking equipment that also provides plenty of detail for modelers. The last documentary film is “Flight to the Future” a 21 minute Bell Aircraft film that is also included on rocket.aero's DVD Mach 2: D558-2 and X-2. It's in color with sound, but mainly deals with the X-2.

The Early X-1 section includes three separate black and white films. “X-1 in Detail,” “Pinecastle,” and “Ground Launch.” “X-1 in Detail” lasts about 36 minutes and contains a lot of raw footage that was compiled into a composite mission with much more detail than that included in the Air Force training film from the documentaries section. James supplies some narration describing what is happening in the film, but otherwise it is silent. Modelers are awarded with terrific detail shots of every aspect of the X-1, including cockpit and engine details. Film quality is quite good.

The image quality of the “Pinecastle” footage is not quite as pristine. This film shows the initial X-1 glide tests at Pinecastle Army Air Base in Florida. Included is footage of loading the X-1 into the B-29 mothership and the first glide tests with chase plane shots. This segment's running time is about 10 minutes.

“Ground Launch” details the only time the X-1 was flown from the ground, rather than dropped from the B-29. This is the shortest segment of the DVD, lasting about 6 minutes.

The last section (Advanced X-1) is broken into three subsections: X-1A, X-1B and X-1E. X-1A is in color, with a bit of narration provided by James. More footage of the X-1A follows that was edited by James into a composite mission. This film lasts 24 minutes and includes plenty of detail shots of ground testing, loading of the X-1A onto the B-50, flight and landing. Film quality is fair to good.

The X-1B footage is also in color and runs for 21 minutes. It is also silent except for an introductory voice-over narration by James. The film includes lots of closeup detail shots of the aircraft on the ground followed by the now standard composite mission showing takeoff and climb, launch, flight and landing of the X-1B. There's also footage of the X-1B crash landing recovery, where the nose wheel collapsed upon landing. This would make for a very interesting diorama subject. Film quality is quite good in this entire section.

The final subsection documents the X-1E and runs for about 15 minutes. It's in color and includes a bit of narration by James, but is otherwise silent. The film contains loading the X-1E onto the B-29 mothership, noting the different paint scheme on the B-29 from the original X-1 “Glamorous Glennis” days. Takeoff and climb to altitude is followed by launch, flight and landing of the X-1E. Again, film quality is quite good.

This DVD adds to the growing set of DVDs produced by rocket.aero documenting the early history of rocketry and rocket powered flight. It's one that any modeler of the X-1 series should own.

Thanx to James Duffy of rocket.aero for the review copy.

Supersonic: The Bell X-1
Published by rocket.aero
$12.95 US

rocket.aero's web page is at: http://www.rocket.aero/

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Sven Knudson