• Exploring American History

America’s Amazing 66 years – Part 2 – Breaking the Sound Barrier

Following World War II, American researchers began to explore the idea of supersonic flight. Prior to this, most felt flight should not be faster than the speed of sound, believing the resulting transonic drag would quite literally tear the plane apart. That way of thinking was about to change.

On October 14, 1947, the X-1 rocket plane removed all doubt about the possibility of supersonic transportation. Built by Bell Aircraft Company and piloted by Chuck Yeager, the aircraft was modeled after a .50 caliber bullet – with a thin, streamlined fuselage and upswept wings.

For the test, the X-1 was loaded into a B-29 aircraft. The B-29 then flew to an altitude of 25,000’ over Southern California’s Rogers Dry Lake. Once the desired altitude was reached, the X-1 was released through the aircraft’s bomb bay. After release, Yeager immediately rocketed the aircraft to an altitude of 40,000’ at a speed greater than 662 mph (the sound barrier at that altitude).

This scientific achievement was kept under wraps until June 1948 due to its level of secrecy. In 1953, Yeager broke another record as he piloted an X-1A to a speed of 1,650 mph. Chuck Yeager’s flight in 1947 was considered to be aviation’s greatest achievement since that of the Wright Brothers in 1903.

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The speed of sound is the speed at which sound waves spread through different materials. For example – through dry air at a temperature of 32° F, sound travels at 1,086.9 ft/second. In liquid at a temperature of 46° F, sound travels at 4,721 ft/second.

The sound barrier is the point at which a speeding object (i.e. – a plane) passes the speed of sound.

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If you can walk away from a landing, it’s a good landing.

If you can use the airplane the next day, it’s an outstanding landing.

Chuck Yeager

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