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Chuck Yeager Broke Sound Barrier 60 Years Ago


American test pilot Chuck Yeager flew a plane through the sound barrier on October 14th, 1947. VOA's Paul Sisco takes a look back at the famous feat and the man who first flew at Mach 1.

Some say only the Wright brothers -- Orville and Wilbur -- can claim a more significant achievement in the history of flight.

Sixty years ago, American test pilot Chuck Yeager flew faster than sound.

At the time, Britain and Germany also were trying to develop a plane that could break the sound barrier, but the United States soon won out with its X-1.

It was more rocket than plane, developed specifically to fly through the shock waves of the sound barrier, with Yeager as pilot. "About half of the engineers gave us no chance at all of ever successfully flying beyond the speed of sound. They said it's a so-called barrier and the airplane would go out of control or disintegrate, but I didn't look at it that way."

Yeager said he had confidence in the craft. He named it "Glamorous Glennis" for his wife, and described its bullet-shaped body as cozy. "Your knees were just about equal with your shoulders so you could pull a lot of Gs [extreme pull of gravity] without blacking out. It didn't have a prop on it. It didn't have a jet engine. It was just strictly a rocket and it was real slick to fly.".

To save fuel the X-1 was lifted by a modified B-29 bomber, then dropped and powered by four liquid oxygen rockets.

As Yeager's X-1 approached aviation history and Mach 1 [the speed of sound], the plane began buffeting violently. Continuing to accelerate it smoothed out, and for the first time a sonic boom filled the atmosphere.

The success was quickly followed by an entire series of aircraft flying faster and higher than ever before. There were disasters and near disasters.

The X-15 eventually flew to the edge of space at four, five and six times the speed of sound. Yeager went on to direct the Space School at Edward's Air Force Base. And ten years ago, the man who first broke the sound barrier did it once again for his last time.

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