71 years ago, Yeager made history

On October 14th, 1947, a young Air Force captain from West Virginia strapped himself into the Bell X-1 rocket plane, and made history by breaking the Sound Barrier for the first time. The General recounted the days leading up to the flight on his Twitter account (where he’s very quick to tell you if you’re WRONG! about something aviation related… perhaps Twitterdom’s best crotchety grandpa account), and of course, it was most famously acted out by Sam Sheppard as Yeager in The Right Stuff. The aircraft now hangs in the Air and Space Smithsonian in Washington DC, and you can see a 360 degree view of its cockpit here, where you can observe just how cramped it was.

That seat. Ouch just looking at it.

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7 thoughts on “71 years ago, Yeager made history”

  1. I bet today Yeager would have been told not to fly that day because of his injury from the fall off a horse. Someone else would have been in that cockpit. It is a testament to Yeager that as a test pilot he knew where the limits were and survived.

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  2. After Yeager’s flight to Mach 1.05 on 1947-10-14, the accomplishment remained secret and was not disclosed to the public until June 1948.  Here is a documentary assembled from contemporary film.

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  3. jzdro:
    What halted our rocket-plane trials?  Congress? The Pentagon?

    It’s a complicated story.  The X-15, which made its last powered flight on October 24, 1968, was the last of the classic “X planes” which began with the X-1.  By the time it was retired, it had explored flight regimes (up a maximum speed of Mach 6.7 and an altitude of 107.8 km) far beyond those envisioned for any military aircraft.  Major funding for the X planes had come primarily from the Air Force, motivated by pioneering higher performance combat aircraft.  The NACA, and later NASA, largely piggybacked their research programmes on the hardware paid for by the Air Force.  With no foreseen need for production aircraft reaching or exceeding the limits of the X-15’s performance, the Air Force had no interest in funding a follow-on project, and NASA lacked the funds (or interest) in higher performance atmospheric flight.  The Space Shuttle can be seen as a follow-on, but it was an aerodynamic vehicle only on return from space.

    By 1968, it had been decided that vertical-launch rockets were the way to get to space.  There have been several proposed experimental rocket planes, such as the X-20 Dyna-Soar, X-30 National Aerospace Plane, and X-33 Venture Star, but all were cancelled before completing development.  Rockets have in used in several other X plane projects such as the X-24, but they were incidental to the goals of the project, not to progress beyond the X-15’s performance.

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  4. As the Chinese and Russians are teaching us, one loss in killing rocket plane development in the sixties is that the technology would likely have given us hypersonic missiles once married to computer technology in the seventies.

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  5. jzdro:
    What halted our rocket-plane trials?

    The law of diminishing returns. We had gotten the low-hanging fruit (in terms of information) and the cost of squeezing out the remaining drop of information did not justify further development.

    It’s kind of like requiring auto makers to cut vehicle emissions in half every five years. Eventually the fraction of remaining vehicle emissions is so small it cutting it in half again double the cost of the car, then quadruples it, and then . . .

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