Military Wiki
X-16 Mock-up
Role High altitude reconnaissance
Manufacturer Bell Aircraft Corporation
Primary user United States Air Force (intended)
Number built 1 started

The Bell X-16 was a high altitude reconnaissance jet aircraft designed in the United States in the 1950s. A mock-up of the X-16 was built, but the project was cancelled in favor of the Martin RB-57 before any X-16 aircraft were completed. 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 engines. 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. 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 J57 jet engine that would later power the Lockheed U-2 and other aircraft.

Artist's depiction

Specifications (X-16, as designed)

Data from[citation needed]

General characteristics

  • Crew: one, pilot
  • Length: 60 ft 10 in (18.55 m)
  • Wingspan: 114 ft 10 in (35 m)
  • Height: 17 ft 1 in (5.2 m)
  • Wing area: 1,099 ft² (102.19 m²)
  • Empty weight: 23,280 lb (10,582 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 36,124 lb (16,420 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney J57-PW-37A turbojets, 4,520 lbf (20.11 kN) each


  • Maximum speed: 480 knots (553 mph, 885 km/h)
  • Range: 2,867 nm (3,319 mi, 5,310 km)
  • Service ceiling: 71,832 ft (21,900 m)
  • Wing loading: 33 lb/ft² (160 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 1:0.55

See also


  1. Jenkins et al. 2003, p. 23.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Polmar 2001, p. 26.
  • 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

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