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October 14, 1947: Yeager Breaks the Sound Barrier

I was always afraid of dying.  Always.  It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment, and kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit.

Chuck Yeager

 

Seventy years ago Captain Chuck Yeager, a double ace in World War II, flying the experimental X-1, broke the sound barrier.  Two days before the flight Yeager broke two ribs and was in such pain that he could not close the cabin door without assistance.  Needless to say he did not report his injury to anyone in authority who could scrub him from the flight.  George Welch, also a World War II ace, may have broke the sound barrier on October 1, 1947, flying in an XP-86, but his speed could not be verified.

As indicated by the video clip below from The Right Stuff, the life of a test pilot in those days often ended in sudden death, so while we salute Yeager’s skill we should also be mindful of his courage and those of his brother pilots.  George Welch died in 1954 when the test plane he was flying disintegrated.  The Right Stuff consists of more than courage, but it is an essential component.

 

General Yeager, who is still with us at age 94, wrote an account of his breaking the sound barrier for Popular Mechanics on the fortieth anniversary:

 

 

I had flown at supersonic speeds for 18 seconds. There was no buffet, no jolt, no shock. Above all, no brick wall to smash into. I was alive.

And although it was never entered in the pilot report, the casualness of invading a piece of space no man had ever visited was best reflected in the radio chatter. I had to tell somebody, anybody, that we’d busted straight through the sound barrier. But transmissions were restricted. “Hey Ridley!” I called. “Make another note. There’s something wrong with this Machmeter. It’s gone completely screwy!”

“If it is, we’ll fix it,” Ridley replied, catching my drift. “But personally, I think you’re seeing things.”

Go here to read the rest.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

4 Comments

  1. Had an aeronautics class with a great professor who bacame historian of the USAF. He said there were several pilots who claimed the break mach 1…in a way. One was a Spitfire pilot shortly after the war had ended. By then the Spit had been improved over and over, and with its elliptical wing might have been able to do it. Guy claimed he put the plane into a long, high dive; his prop broke off halfway down; otherwise it never could’ve come close to mach 1.
    Of course, even if it were true, that’s not really flying, it’s “falling with style”.

  2. Yeagers bio is a good read.
    Upon reporting to my unit at Pax River I was asked what does your husband do? I replied that he’s a student in the new class at Test Pilot School. “Well, has he read The Right Stuff?” “I guess so. He reads what ever stuff the instructors tell him too.” Laughter.
    My husband always tells people “WE got through TPS”. There was usually a waiting list for married student quarters. If one became available suddenly it was either because of divorce or a new widow was moving out. One just took the keys and didnt ask why.
    Just the other night after a glass or two of wine my husband told me about this harrowing test flight with oxygen and parachutes he flew in a helo with a non pilot, academic instructor. The test was to find the unknown altitude limit of a particular helo. I was 6 months pregnant at the time of the test flight; am so thankful he waited 35 years to tell me that story.

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