14 October 2009


on this day in 1947 (my birth year), test pilot chuck yeager became the first human to break the sound barrier, flying in an experimental rocket-powered Bell X-1 aircraft (shown below) at an altitude of 45,000 feet. surpassing the speed of sound (about 768 mph, or one mile every five seconds) had long eluded pilots and aircraft builders. some considered it to be a near-solid barrier, impossible to penetrate. aircraft buffeting increases exponentially as one approaches the critical speed, due to the accumulation and compression of air directly in front of the aircraft. but once that speed is exceeded, smooth flying returns.

yeager's extraordinary feat is described in tom wolfe's book The Right Stuff, and also in the movie of the same name. yeager himself appears briefly in the film, playing a bartender at the legendary desert pilots' bar owned and run by woman pilot pancho barnes.
below is a u.s. navy F-18 Hornet at the instant of surpassing the speed of sound.

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