Born on a farm in West Virginia, Chuck Yeager’s first experience with the military was as a teenager at a military summer camp at Fort Benjamin Harrison, in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1939 and 1940.
As it happens, my husband spent our first anniversary at Fort Benamin Harrison in 1969, when he was there for a month of training as an Army officer, the year before he was sent to Vietnam, where he spent our second anniversary.
In September 1941, Yeager enlisted in the Army as a private and was soon assigned to be an aircraft mechanic.
Too young to be a pilot, he also didn’t have a college degree, so could not go to flight training at first.
The attack on Pearl Harbor in December changed recruiting standards. Yeager’s 20/10 vision made him a perfect candidate for flight school after all, from which he graduated in March 1943.
Yeager flew P-51 Mustangs on eight combat missions before he was shot down over France. The French resistance helped him escape to Spain, where he could then make his way back to England.
Though pilots who had been helped to escape were not supposed to fly over enemy territory again because if they were shot down again this might reveal who had helped them escape, Yeager pleaded his case directly to Eisenhower. He said that by now the French resistance was operating openly against the Nazis. He was allowed to return to combat.
He was the first pilot in his group to make “ace in a day,” downing five enemy planes on a single mission. He flew his 61st and final mission on January 15, 1945.
He credits both this combat experience and his experience as a mechanic for his later success as a test pilot. When he returned to the U.S., he became a test pilot for repaired airplanes in the Air Force.
Bell Aircraft developed the X-1 that was to become the first plane to break the sound barrier in level flight.
But, when their test pilot asked for $150,000 to break the sound barrier, the Air Force decided to use their own test pilot, Yeager, for the federal government program doing aeronautical research, NACA.
Yeager’s plane didn’t take off, fly fast enough to break the sound barrier, then land, as later planes did.
He took off with a much larger B-29 plane that carried his plane into the air, then lowered himself into the hatch of the plane that weighed 5,000 pounds empty and carried 8,000 pounds of fuel.
On October 14, 1947, he broke the sound barrier, the first to do so in level flight. Supersonic speed means beyond the sound barrier.
I was three months old.
When his plane was released for the 2 ½ -minute flight, he flew level at 45,000 feet, at a speed of Mach 1.07, 807.2 miles per hour, almost 40 miles per hour faster than the 768 miles per hour necessary to exceed the speed of sound. Sound travels a mile in five seconds.
Then, it glided to a landing.
This distinguished his plane and flight from earlier rockets and planes breaking the sound barrier using steep dives. The airplane is now at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.
Jackie Cochran was a racing pilot and commercial pilot who flew across the country promoting her company’s cosmetics in the 1930s, helped form the Army’s Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) and Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).
On May 18, 1953, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier. She was the first woman to land and take off from an aircraft carrier and to make a blind, instrument only landing.
On December 14, 1953, Yeager flew at Mach 2.44.
Did you know that the sharp crack of a bullwhip is a sonic boom? The tip breaks the sound barrier.
The fastest plane ever is the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. It flew at 2,193.2 miles per hour, or Mach 3.32, on July 28, 1976.
Have you ever heard a sonic boom?
Have you ever stood and looked up in the sky to try to find the plane that caused the boom that you realized meant it had just broken the sound barrier?
Carol Covin, Granny-Guru