Bell X-16

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Bell X-16.jpg
X-16 Mock-up
Role High altitude reconnaissance
Manufacturer Bell Aircraft Corporation
Primary user United States Air Force (intended)
Number built none completed

The Bell X-16 was a high altitude reconnaissance jet aircraft designed in the United States in the 1950s. The designation of X-16 was a cover to try to hide the true nature of the aircraft mission from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.[1]


During the second half of 1953, Fairchild, Bell, and Martin Aircraft conducted high altitude reconnaissance aircraft design studies for the United States Air Force under project MX-2147.[2] All three designs used Pratt & Whitney J57-19 turbojets. The Bell and Martin (B-57D) designs were chosen for further development. The Bell Model 67 design was designated the X-16. A full-scale X-16 mock-up was completed and one aircraft was partially completed. It was designed as a high altitude long-range reconnaissance aircraft.[3]

The X-16 design was breaking new ground with its design. Its wing was long (114.83 feet) with a high aspect ratio (11.9). It was significantly lighter and more flexible than usual jet aircraft wings. The entire aircraft was made as light as possible to fulfill its mission of a 3,000-mile unrefueled range at a 69,500 ft altitude.[2]

A total of 28 aircraft were ordered, but none were completed. The first X-16 was about 80 percent complete when the program was cancelled by the Air Force in favor of the Martin RB-57 in 1956. Although no X-16 was ever completed, it made contributions to aircraft design with its lightweight design. It was also a driving force behind the development of the high-altitude versions of the J57 that would later power the Lockheed U-2 and other aircraft.[citation needed]

Specifications (X-16, as designed)[edit]

Artist's depiction

Data from [3]

General characteristics


See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


  1. ^ Jenkins et al. 2003, p. 23.
  2. ^ a b Polmar 2001, p. 26.
  3. ^ a b Miller, Jay (2001). The X-Planes: X-1 to X-45 (third ed.). Motorbooks International. ISBN 1-85780-109-1.
  • Jenkins, Dennis R., Tony Landis and Jay Miller. American X-Vehicles: An Inventory – X-1 to X-50 (Monographs in Aerospace History No. 31: Centennial of Flight Edition). Washington, D.C.: NASA SP-2003-4531, June 2003. Retrieved: 26 July 2009.
  • Miller, Jay. Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works: The Official History. Leicester, UK: Aerofax, an imprint of Midland Publishing, 1995 (revised edition). ISBN 1-85780-037-0.
  • Polmar, Martin. Spyplane: The U-2 History. St. Paul, Minnesota: Zenith Press, 2001. ISBN 0-7603-0957-4.

External links[edit]