Inducted in 1968
First Person To Pilot An Aircraft At Supersonic Speed, 1947
On October 14, 1947, Captain “Chuck” Yeager, a World War II fighter pilot, became the first to break the sound barrier in a needle-nosed Bell X-1. The four rocket motors of this tiny research craft could gulp an entire supply of fuel in two and one-half minutes. To save fuel, the Bell X-1 was carried aloft by a B-29. The craft was released over Muroc Dry Lake, California. Yeager leveled the craft and fired its rockets. “Boy, it sure went,” he later recalled.
At 37,000 feet, the X-1 flew nicely, but began to buffet as it approached the sound barrier. When an airplane travels at the speed of sound, the air particles ahead are compressed into a “wall of thick air.” Early engines could not supply enough power to push through this invisible wall and assaults on the barrier had proven hazardous and deadly. Yeager pushed on and accelerated the craft past the shock wave with a speed slightly greater than Mach 1, the speed of sound.
Before Yeager’s accomplishment, many agreed the sound barrier was an impenetrable obstacle to faster flight. However, with the world’s first supersonic flight, Yeager proved that speeds faster than sound were attainable.