Breaking the Sound Barrier

77th anniversary

2024 marks the 77th Anniversary of Captain Chuck Yeager Risking his Life Breaking the Sound Barrier, going past Mach 1, the Speed of Sound.

Experts warned that if Captain Chuck Yeager tried to break the sound barrier, he and his airplane would break up into tiny pieces just as many many had done before him.

Chuck Yeager and Bell X1On October 14, 1947: Captain Chuck Yeager defied the experts when he flew faster than Mach 1, the speed of sound, and lived to tell the tale. This amazing feat put the USA ahead of the rest of the world for many years and opened up space so we could fly to the moon.

It was one of the two most significant advances in aviation; the other being the Wright brothers’ first powered flight in December 1903.

Already a World War II hero after he became an ace in a day and shot down a German jet, the Me 262, this achievement solidified his hero status.

Folks thought Chuck Yeager was fearless, He wasn’t. He just didn’t let fear get in the way of doing the job that had to be done.

X1 InspectedThose designing the XS-1 (x= experimental, s = supersonic, 1 first plane designed to go supersonic) chose a shape similar to a 50-cal bullet. They knew that a 50-cal bullet traveled faster than the speed of sound and survived, so they designed the XS-1 in the shape of a bullet and gave it as much structural strength as possible so that someone flying it might also survive. In a way, Chuck Yeager rode a bullet into history.

On the 7th powered flight, Yeager lost elevator effectiveness and didn’t think he could fly faster than sound. The shock wave had settled on the horizontal elevator. After he landed, he told his flight engineer, Jack Ridley.

Jack pondered this and then told Captain Yeager; you have a manual trim – try that.

On the 8th powered flight, Yeager turned (which simulates somewhat how the aircraft will perform straight and level at a faster speed) the aircraft and used the manual trim … successfully. After he landed, he signaled to Ridley, “I think we got it made.”

That weekend he and his first wife Glennis were supposed to go on a weekend trip, but she felt ill due to her 3rd pregnancy so they stayed home. By Sunday, she was feeling better, so they went to Pancho’s for dinner. After dinner, they decided to go horseback riding. On the return, they challenged each other to a race but someone had closed the gate. Yeager’s horse did quite a turn as Yeager kept going straight over the fence. The next day, a Monday, the day before the big flight, in great pain, he went to the veterinarian off base because the flight doctor would have grounded him. The vet taped him up and said, “Don’t do nothin’ strenuous.”

Yeager was having trouble utilizing his right arm, so Ridley sawed off the end of a broomstick which Yeager could use with his left hand for leverage to close the hatch.

On Tuesday, the fateful day, they took off in the B-29. When the time came, Yeager went down the crude elevator, crawled into the X-1 attached to the belly of the B-29, and was able to close the hatch with his left hand and the piece of broomstick.

After they heard a boom on the ground, Yeager signaled to Ridley, “This machmeter is all screwy!” He had just passed the sound barrier threshold and flown faster than Mach 1, the speed of sound.