With winter fast approaching, the RedState Department of History has spent more time inside in the evenings watching television, because it hates the cold.
That means more movies, and one of special interest this week was 1983’s “The Right Stuff“. A fair portion of that movie had to do with today’s anniversary.
On this date in 1947, a 24-year old U.S. Air Force captain named Chuck Yeager became the first human being to break the sound barrier, flying his Bell X-1 aircraft over the Nevada desert at Mach 1.06.
During World War II, pilots of certain airplanes experienced a phenomenon known as compressibility while in steep dives. As an airfoil approaches the speed of sound, the airflow around it is disrupted and the plane’s surfaces are compressed in place by the pressure, making it difficult if not impossible to pull out of a dive.
In this regard, approaching the sound barrier was seen as a very dangerous choice for any pilot. But after the war, the U.S. military deemed it necessary to make the attempt not only to reach that barrier, but break it.
They turned to Yeager, who had started his military career as a mechanic — until his superiors discovered he had 20/10 vision and an understanding of how airplanes worked which excelled that of many combat pilots.
Yeager flew 64 combat missions in World War II, claiming 12.5 kills — including an “ace in a day” experience on October 12, 1944 in which he shot down five German aircraft in a single mission — and his uncommonly clear head in a crisis made him a natural test pilot.
He was one of the first to fly the X-1. It was designed in the shape of a .50 caliber bullet, which was known to be both supersonic and stable in flight.
Yet Yeager found many of the same problems with the X-1 that the World War II pilots had seen. Eventually, a fellow pilot suggested he use his plane’s horizontal elevators to control the compressibility issue, and testing resumed.
Yeager actually broke the sound barrier on his ninth attempt. Flight controllers would have Yeager gradually approached the sound barrier, which is approximately 758 miles per hour at sea level, to see how plane and pilot would handle the stresses.
The day before his historic flight, Yeager was horseback riding with his wife Glennis, but fell off his horse and broke two ribs. Fearing he would be grounded, Yeager simply had his ribs taped up. Unable to reach over his head to close the canopy on his plane by hand, Yeager used a broomstick.
Then, he made history. His plane, Glamorous Glennis, was dropped from the belly of a B-29 at altitude and the plane’s four rocket engines did the rest.
Yeager topped out at Mach 1.06 and entered the history books.
Of course, since then Yeager has become an American icon. His plain-speaking style has won him legions of admirers. He served as a consultant for the military after his magic moment, and flew his last active duty flight in 1975 aboard an F4 Phantom II. Yet he served as a consultant for many years after that – and at age 89, he was strapped into the back seat of an F-15 on an honor flight, to recreate the event on the 65th anniversary of his achievement.
Yeager, now 95, is active on social media. He can be followed @genchuckyeager on Twitter, where he routinely engages his followers by answering their questions. In fact, he’s tweeted about his flight today:
Once asked whether he or World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker would win in a dogfight, Yeager’s answer was:
“Me. He’s dead.”
Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!