Trivia Minute October 14, 2015

195: Chuck Yeager Breaks the Sound Barrier

by Marcus Michelson
Yeager in front of the Bell X-1, which, as with all of the aircraft assigned to him, he named Glamorous Glennis (or some variation thereof), after his wife.
Yeager in front of the Bell X-1, which, as with all of the aircraft assigned to him, he named Glamorous Glennis (or some variation thereof), after his wife. (U.S. Air Force photo via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1947, Chuck Yeager became the first person to break the speed of sound in an airplane.

Here are some facts you may not have known about Yeager and supersonic flight.

Charles Elwood Yeager was born in West Virginia in 1923. He joined the U.S. Army Air Forces at the age of 18 in 1941. After two years working as an aircraft mechanic, he became a pilot in 1943 and was stationed in England where he flew eight missions before being shot down over France. A year after, he was allowed to resume flying and he made “ace in a day” for shooting down five enemy aircraft in a single mission. He finished the war with 11 1/2 victories.

Following World War II, Yeager remained in the Air Force and became a test pilot in a program with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA. The program’s goal was to break the sound barrier in a rocket-powered Bell X-1 airplane. Two days before the historic flight was scheduled, Yeager broke two ribs falling off of a horse. He kept the injury secret, seeking treatment from a nearby veterinarian. The injury caused so much pain, Yeager couldn’t latch the X-1 hatch closed by himself, so he and a fellow pilot used a broom handle to rig up a lever that would allow him to do it.

Yeager took off from what is now Edwards Air Force Base in California and broke the speed of sound, which is 768 miles per hour or 1,236 kilometers per hour, about 45,000 feet over Rogers Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert.

Six years later Yeager reached a speed of Mach 2.44, after which he lost control of the plane for 51 seconds, dropping 51,000 feet. He has able to regain control and land the plane without further problem. He earned the distinguished service medal for this feat.

He remained a fighter pilot and commanded fighter wings in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He retired as a brigadier general in 1975.

Chuck Yeager is 92 years old and lives in Penn Valley, California.

Our question, what type of plane holds the current speed record for manned flight in an airbreathing craft?

Today is World Standards Day, Defender of Ukraine Day and Mother’s Day in Belarus. In the United States it’s unofficially National Emergency Nurses Day and National Stop Bullying Day. It’s the birthday of former U.S President Dwight Eisenhower, UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and actor Roger Moore.

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