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Chuck Yeager Re-Enacts the Historic Flight That Broke the Sound Barrier

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the time-to-fly dept.

The Military 122

Hugh Pickens writes "The Seattle Times reports that exactly 65 years to the minute after becoming the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager flew in the back seat of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000 feet above California's Mojave Desert — the same area where he first achieved the feat in 1947 while flying an experimental rocket plane. Asked by a young girl if he was scared during Sunday's flight, Yeager joked, 'Yeah, I was scared to death.' Yeager made the first supersonic flight in a rocket-powered, Bell X-1, known as the XS-1 for 'experimental, supersonic,' attached to the belly of a B-29 aircraft. Hiding the pain of broken ribs from a midnight horse race after a night of drinking at Pancho Barnes' Happy Bottom Riding Club, Yeager squeezed into the aircraft with no safe way to bail out. Soon after the rocket plane was released, Yeager powered it upward to about 42,000 feet altitude, then leveled off and sped to 650 mph, or Mach 1.07. Some aviation historians contend that American pilot George Welch broke the sound barrier before Yeager, while diving an XP-86 Sabre on October 1, 1947 and there is also a disputed claim by German pilot Hans Guido Mutke that he was the first person to break the sound barrier, on April 9, 1945, in a Messerschmitt Me 262. Yeager's flight was portrayed in the opening scenes of The Right Stuff, the 1983 movie, based on the book by Tom Wolfe that chronicles America's space race. For his part Yeager said nothing special was going through his mind at the time of the re-enactment. 'Flying is flying. You can't add a lot to it.'"

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122 comments

Sure He Did (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41656515)

A re-enactment other than with a different model of aircraft and a different pilot.

Re:Sure He Did (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#41656933)

Interesting trivia point... F-15 is older than I am. First F-15 flight was a mere 27 years after Yeagers flight, and was also 38 years ago. So F-15's are so old, they're closer to the days of Yeagers first flight than they are to close to today. That must trip out F-15 pilots, its theoretically possible that a F-15 could have been flown by three generations of the same family... bomber and transport pilots are used to that but traditionally fighter planes don't serve for 4 decades.

Re:Sure He Did (1)

osu-neko (2604) | about 2 years ago | (#41657787)

They do if they're that good. Granted, it's not the best plane in the sky today, but it's still one of the best.

Re:Sure He Did (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660335)

No, they're worn out, broke ass pieces of shit now. We were fucking stupid to have bought so few F-22's that we also have to pay to keep up the F-15C's.

Re:Sure He Did (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about 2 years ago | (#41658967)

If you think that's something, consider the B52s that are still flying.

Re:Sure He Did (1)

srmalloy (263556) | about 2 years ago | (#41662639)

If you think that's something, consider the B52s that are still flying.

1LT Bob Welch, his father, LTC Don Welch (ret), and his grandfather, COL Don Sprague (ret), all served in the 23rd Bomb Squadron flying B-52s, and COL Sprague commanded the unit back in the 1970s. I wasn't able to dig up evidence that 1LT Welch actually flew the same plane his grandfather flew, but as his grandfather flew all the variants of the B-52 up through the H model, I expect that the Air Force would have arranged it just for publicity value.

Re:Sure He Did (1)

gstevens (209321) | about 2 years ago | (#41660425)

...And they like to say the mother of the last C-130 pilot hasn't been born yet...

F15 (1)

p51d007 (656414) | about 2 years ago | (#41661199)

Let me tell you a little something about the F-15. The Eagle was developed, at a tremendous cost, to counter what was thought of to be a super jet, the Mig-25, which was developed to counter the bomber the Air Force was testing, the Mach 3 XB-70 (which never went into production). Mig-25's were routinely out running F-4's from Israel, so the Air Force wanted something better. Not knowing anything about the Mig's performance or anything other than it was FAST, McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) in St. Louis started work on what would become the F-15. TWO BIG HUGE jet engines were centerlined around the frame. It was built at the very infancy of computers. It was, for lack of a better term, overbuilt. In the 70's, a pilot defected with a Mig-25 Foxbat in Japan, and our military pretty much took it apart and found that other than the two big engines used to obtain the speed, the Mig-25 was a piece of junk. The enviromental system sucked among other problems with the panels not fitting. They laughed at the vacuum tubes at the time, but I think now tubes might handle an EMP burst a little better than IC's. The F-15 has never been bested in air to air combat. One Israel F-15 even LOST THE ENTIRE STARBOARD wing, and landed safely! The F-15 is still a very capable aircraft, and could be modified to be a little more "stealthy", but, the air force has already wasted a ton of money in the F-22 (now they know what caused the Oxygen problem it should be back in service). The brass hats in the air force are like little kids, always wanting a new toy to play with. The "St. Louie Slugger" will be around a LONG time to come, despite its age. And the age part? most have been built in the 80's that are in front line combat. D's, E's are for the most part flying. Probably not too many A models left. The team that came up with the Eagle should be congratulated. Every once in a while, a near perfect design comes along. The P-51 Mustang, the B-17, the F-86...the F-15 Eagle.

Re:Sure He Did (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41663685)

It sort of illustrates the limits of our engineering, materials and energy sources. The F-15 was designed mostly on paper with some computer modelling and went from project to prototype in three years. It's still impressive today. The F-15 Streak Eagle can actually outclimb a Saturn V. Physical technology hit a pleateau exactly around that time, the 1960s to about early 1970s.

Just saying that because some people think we'll 3D print a warp drive in less than ten years... They're obviously severely mentally ill.

Sure, we have more information processing capacity today, that's because we can manufacture smaller and smaller transistors. That's because there's plenty of room at the bottom. But the energy density of practical fuels stays the same, the thrust you can get from a turbine stays the same (or at least it won't improve by the same orders of magnitude as storage capacity of a hard drive, for example), the temperature limits of even the best turbine alloys are the same, etc...

Better settle down, this planet is *IT*.

Hey Ridley, (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41656535)

...got a stick of Beemans?

Re:Hey Ridley, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41663707)

Airman: Sir! Over there! Is that a man?
Ridley: Yeah, you damned right it is!

Re-enacts? (4, Informative)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 2 years ago | (#41656563)

Really?

No, sorry, it is not a re-enactment. He just went for a supersonic flight as a passenger.

Re:Re-enacts? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41656671)

I'd like to see you re-enact anything besides shitting your pants when you're 89. Show the man a little respect, jackass.

Re:Re-enacts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41661339)

Totally. Why can't ALL old people be as cool as Chuck Yeager!? Why can't the young people today even begin to approach being half as awesome as this giant of a pioneering test pilot?! C'mon, America! More true hero's, please!

Re:Re-enacts? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41656979)

I know, right? It's like those Civil War 're-enactors'; those pansies don't even use real bullets!

Re:Re-enacts? (4, Funny)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 2 years ago | (#41656989)

Those civil-war "re-enactors" don't even use the same people.

Re:Re-enacts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41656991)

After the flight, Yeager sat in a chair where he was lectured on politics by Clint Eastwood.

Re:Re-enacts? (1)

A10Mechanic (1056868) | about 2 years ago | (#41657139)

Hah, I'd bet you a stick of Beemans that the person in the back seat was flying it. Maybe just not for the take-off and landing (due to decreased visibility from the back seat)...

Re:Re-enacts? (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about 2 years ago | (#41657155)

I think "commemorates is a better choice of word.

Re:Re-enacts? (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 2 years ago | (#41658827)

No, sorry, it is not a re-enactment. He just went for a supersonic flight as a passenger.

You could argue that he was a passenger on his first attempt as well. After all, for the supersonic part, he really couldn't do much than sit on his hands.

It's actually a facinating look at human history - between rockets and missiles and the early space missions. How much should the human be involved (or even should they?). During the early days it was a serious question of just how much should the human be involved and what to do with bad inputs. With full modelling of feedback loops.

And yes, a lot of early arguments for humans in the loop boiled down to bravado and the like (being that the early astronauts came from test pilot track and such). Even if they didn't really do much other than look pretty during the part you wanted to test.

Not to understate his achievement of course (he is Chuck freakin' Yeager!), but this was during the age of early flight computers and autopilots and space exploration.

Re:Re-enacts? (3, Informative)

dywolf (2673597) | about 2 years ago | (#41659359)

The X-1 was fully controlled by the pilot. Yeager, and more importantly his friend Jack Ridley, and the X-1 were the source of the all-moving tailplane that became essential to maintianing control of aircraft through the transonic and supersonic realms of flight. Prior to that invention the shockwave would overpower the controls leading to loss of control and crash.

Re:Re-enacts? (4, Insightful)

dywolf (2673597) | about 2 years ago | (#41659073)

Uninformed troll. He was not a passenger. He flew second seat, which is customary when you are in a two-seater that isn't your plane.

Still has full flight controls and he was flying the aircraft. Yeager has flown the F15 for many years. He is more than qualified in the type. He is one hte most naturally gifted pilots ever to exist. The aircraft hasnt been made that he cant fly (this includes the Space Shuttle and the Mercury capsule, both of which he qualified for on the simulators). The only reason the plane commander was even there is because of Yeagar's advanced years and recent health problems, even though he had been flying F15s solo even up until a couple years ago.

One of the perks of being a retired General who still maintains his flight quals, and also partly cause hey, its Yeager, a man who in his 70s could still outfly men 40 years younger than he.

Re:Re-enacts? (3, Insightful)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 2 years ago | (#41660077)

Yeah, but Yeager couldn't have so easily used this modern F15 plane with modern, easy controls to exceed the sound barrier if it hadn't been for many brave pioneers who went before him and developed and bravely tested supersonic trav...

Wait. Nevermind.

Re:Re-enacts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660979)

Well played, sir!

Re:Re-enacts? (1)

zlives (2009072) | about 2 years ago | (#41661297)

+1

Dismissive geek asshole is dismissive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41659421)

Hiding the pain of broken ribs from a midnight horse race after a night of drinking at Pancho Barnes' Happy Bottom Riding Club, Yeager squeezed into the aircraft with no safe way to bail out.

Dude is 89 and could probably still kick your ass. Go back to your little consulting gig, you zero.

Is this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41656565)

the new method of return from the ISS in hard economic times?

Re:Is this... (3, Informative)

Seeteufel (1736784) | about 2 years ago | (#41656719)

In 1941 the V2 rockets reached Mach5. In any case, supersonic flight was even possible with the French Concorde passenger aircraft.

Re:Is this... (2)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 2 years ago | (#41656879)

Your wording about the Concorde is really odd here. The purpose of the Concorde was supersonic passenger flight. It's downfall was all the bitch and moaning about sonic booms over populated areas.

Re:Is this... (2, Informative)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about 2 years ago | (#41657367)

It's downfall was all the bitch and moaning about sonic booms over populated areas.

No, it's downfall was that, for the vast majority of people, Mach 0.74 in a 737 is fast enough for the price-point, and people with deep pockets would rather pay for luxury...

http://tinyurl.com/8tvmthd [tinyurl.com]

...not speed.

Re:Is this... (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | about 2 years ago | (#41658393)

I'd say its downfall was the sonic boom, period.

Work out a technical solution to get rid of the boom, and you can fly over populated areas.

One hundred people getting to their destination a couple of hours earlier isn't a good reason to roll thunder across tens of millions of people's heads. IMO, it's not a good reason to disturb a couple of thousand whales and dolphins, either, but they've got bigger problems than supersonic planes.

Re: no, it was economics, period... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660617)

The airlines still operating it could not make a profit with the rising cost of fuel. Yes, it has a sonic boom, but, given that most of its high demand routes were over water, that was hardly an issue. It's cost per seat mile was many multiples of what the cost per seat mile was on traditional aircraft. With the advent of the Wide Body twin jets with full ETOPS certifications, (the 767-ER, 777s, A-330 and some 320 variants), the seat mile cost plummeted and the business case disolved. In their final years they were a novelty played with by the super rich, the few governments that would pay for someone to go that fast, and a few novelty travelers. They were rarely at above a 50% load factor and lost money for half a decade or more before being retired.

I will grant you that the sonic boom limited them from some routes that could have made them somewhat profitable, especially a New York to LA run that would have brought in quite a penny in seat fees, but when they couldn't come up with a business case for a snowbird route from New York to Miama, that would have been all over water, and could have cycled four times a day, the writing was on the wall. They were expensive to keep up, requiring more expensive parts than comparable sized passenger aircraft (afterburners are not cheap to maintain, nor is the skin that is speced for supersonic airflows and thermal loads) and many more manhours of work per flight hour. All that adds up. You can only charge so much per seat.

Now, this space is being taken up by the time share gulf stream crowd. Planes ready when you are, that fly higher than regular comercial jets, at .96 mach all day long. It'll get you to London from New York over an hour faster than any commercial, once you take in all the hastles of regular comercial travel. The dirty little secret is that that's what those jets are "certified" for for cruising speed. They have lots of excess range, take off with rather full tanks and land nearly empty. That doesn't happen when you're flying in your cruise envelope...

Re:Is this... (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 years ago | (#41657103)

In 1941 the V2 rockets reached Mach5.

And rifle bullets broke the sound barrier centuries before that. So what? Like the V2, nobody was onboard. The point of Chuck's flight was not that a "thing" broke the sound barrier, but that a human did.

In any case, supersonic flight was even possible with the French Concorde passenger aircraft.

The Concorde didn't exist in 1947.

Re:Is this... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41658063)

And rifle bullets broke the sound barrier centuries before that.

You mean those lead musket balls and iron gun shots propelled with black powder? I don't think so, or at least I doubt that happened with any sort of regularity.

Re:Is this... (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 years ago | (#41658513)

And rifle bullets broke the sound barrier centuries before that.

You mean those lead musket balls and iron gun shots propelled with black powder?

No. I mean rifles. The normal infantry weapon was a musket until the 19th century, but rifles were widely used by sharpshooters in the Seven Years War [wikipedia.org] (known as the French and Indian War in North America), and rifles were around in smaller numbers since the 1500's.

Supersonic projectiles are nothing new.

Re:Is this... (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | about 2 years ago | (#41658387)

I can do one better: The tip of a bullwhip broke the sound barrier centuries before rifle bullets. As far as I know no one ever rode a bullwhip past the sound barrier either.

Re:Is this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41662039)

As far as I know no one ever rode a bullwhip past the sound barrier either.

I smell a new fetish....

Re:Is this... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41657147)

supersonic flight was even possible with the French Concorde

Supersonic flight was also possible with the British Concorde. But I suppose this is less surprising.

Scared (4, Insightful)

sycodon (149926) | about 2 years ago | (#41656579)

'Yeah, I was scared to death.'

Joking or not, once you have been Pilot in Command, when you fly with someone else, you do get kind of twitchy. Kind of like riding in a car with a newly licensed 16 year old. When YOU are not in control, things seem different and possibly scary.

Re:Scared (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | about 2 years ago | (#41658443)

Re:
>I want to start a business. Where do I find these people who do it for me?

Just give your startup capital to me, I'll take total control, it won't be scary at all.

65 years minus 1 day (4, Insightful)

Lord Lode (1290856) | about 2 years ago | (#41656587)

Interesting, if that's so then exactly 65 years minus 1 day after the first human to cross the sound barrier in an airplane, we have the first human to cross the sound barrier without airplane (yesterday)!

Re:65 years minus 1 day (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41658111)

I thought he hasn't managed to cross it? Anyway, I suspect Chuck just wanted to prove to himself that he's still faster than a parachuter. :-)

Re:65 years minus 1 day (1)

Jesse_vd (821123) | about 2 years ago | (#41662599)

At 833MPH or 1.24 Mach, the parachuter is actually much faster

Re:65 years minus 1 day (1)

srmalloy (263556) | about 2 years ago | (#41662827)

Interesting, if that's so then exactly 65 years minus 1 day after the first human to cross the sound barrier in an airplane, we have the first human to cross the sound barrier without airplane (yesterday)!

That depends on your definition of the term. On 25 January 1966, Bill Weaver was flying SR-71A 61-7952 / 2003 at a speed of Mach 3.2 when he experienced a severe case of engine unstart. Before he could tell his RSO, Jim Zwayer, not to eject until he regained control of the aircraft, the SR-71 disintegrated around him, leaving him in free fall at a speed in excess of Mach 3. His drogue chute deployed, stabilizing his fall, and his main chute deployed automatically. Weaver spotted his RSO's chute during his parachute descent; unfortunately, Zwayer had suffered a broken neck during the SR-71's disintegration and was dead before he landed. Weaver was uninjured.

In 1955, George Smith was flying an F-100 Super Sabre when the aircraft pitched into a dive and ceased responding to its controls, despite reducing the engine to idle and deploying speed brakes; he ejected from the plane at a speed of Mach 1.05. During the ejection, he experienced an acceleration of 40g, losing his shoes, socks, helmet, flight gloves, wristwatch, and ring, and had several panels blow out of his chute when it deployed due to his high speed. He was lucky to splash into the water 100 yards away from a fishing boat commanded by a former Navy Rescue Specialist. He was severely injured during the ejection, and was unconscious for days, with doctors holding out little hope for his recovery. Smith did, however, make a full recovery, and returned to flight status.

Baumgartner was the first person to deliberately exceed Mach 1 without an aircraft, but he was not the first person to exceed Mach 1 in free fall.

I heard Yeager's a bit of a dick (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41656713)

And with that in mind, this quote "Yeah, I was scared to death." sounds different than fun sarcasm. And at the end "For his part Yeager said nothing special was going through his mind at the time of the re-enactment." It's kinda like yeah, whatever. I've talked to a few people who've talked to several of the great old timers and they seem to agree Yeager isn't a very pleasant person.

Re:I heard Yeager's a bit of a dick (1)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#41656791)

Most pilots from that era (and pretty much every era) were dicks. Gus Grissom made Yeager look like a goddamned saint. They got the job done, though.

Re:I heard Yeager's a bit of a dick (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 years ago | (#41657297)

Most pilots from that era (and pretty much every era) were dicks.

When you have a job where your survival depends on the competence of other people, normal social courtesies like tact, circumspection and compromise can get you killed.

Re:I heard Yeager's a bit of a dick (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 2 years ago | (#41657553)

Most pilots from that era (and pretty much every era) were dicks.

Well, yeah. You have to be a complete fucking lunatic to be a test pilot, especially back then when aerodynamics was poorly understood and deaths were common.

Re:I heard Yeager's a bit of a dick (1)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about 2 years ago | (#41657027)

Don't know the man personally, so I won't speak as to his actual charachter. I will say this. "A man who doesn't admit to being scared at certain times of his life is either a fool or a liar."

Re:I heard Yeager's a bit of a dick (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660207)

Yeager isn't a very pleasant person.

He's a fighter ace and a test pilot. A trained killer, and an officer. Pleasant? If he were really in a bad mood, he'd strangle you with one quick grab and walk off. None of these guys are "pleasant". Just being able to adhere to reasonable social conventions in normal social settings is an accomplishment. The less fortunate ones are wandering the streets in a daze or locked up, and of course the least fortunate ones are dead. I wager he knows a lot of the less fortunate ones, and a lot of dead ones. Pleasant? For fucks sake... I have nothing to compare with what the military folk go through, and even I'm disgusted with you.

More likely low tolerance for stupidity ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41661593)

He's a fighter ace and a test pilot. A trained killer, and an officer. Pleasant? If he were really in a bad mood, he'd strangle you with one quick grab and walk off. None of these guys are "pleasant".

That is Hollywood BS. Read Yeager's biography. Here is some insight into his view of combat and killing. After famously shooting down several German aircraft in a single mission he was asked by a PR person for a comment. He did not tell the superior American pilot story the PR person wanted. He said that several of the German pilots were barely trained, could not fly their aircraft very well and seemed to have little combat training, that the German officer who ordered such novices into combat should be charged with murder.

In Chuck's day, WW2, millions of Americans were "trained killers". I literally grew up around guys (relatives, teachers, bosses, etc) who fought at Normandy, Bastogne, Guadalcanal (both onshore and up the slot), flew over Germany in '43, ... They were very "normal" people and not prone to the behavior you suggest. I've also worked for some Korea and Vietnam era fighter pilots. I found them pleasant people as well, perhaps my interest in aviation helped.

What such men often have is a low tolerance for stupidity. If you heard from someone that Yeager was unpleasant I suspect that this person sunk below his stupidity tolerance level.

Probbably not the first (5, Interesting)

thrich81 (1357561) | about 2 years ago | (#41656715)

There is a well established legend (story, rumor?) that Yeager's supersonic flight was beaten by a couple of weeks by the F-86 prototype doing flight testing. The pilot, George Welch, was a test pilot for North American aviation and was doing tests including high speed dives before the X-1's supersonic flight. The aircraft was not instrumented to prove it at the time, but later it was conclusively shown that the F-86 would go supersonic in dives. Supposedly the Air Force hushed it all up at the time. Fascinating note in aviation history -- http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/history/q0113.shtml [aerospaceweb.org] .

Re:Probbably not the first (2)

KernelMuncher (989766) | about 2 years ago | (#41657349)

Yeager did it in level flight - a huge difference

Marketing 101 (1)

srussia (884021) | about 2 years ago | (#41657891)

Yeager did it in level flight - a huge difference

Yeager's plane was called "X-1" and Welch's "F-86"--huge difference.

FTFY

Re:Probbably not the first (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660547)

From a pedantic standpoint, yes. To the laws of aeronautics and physics there is no difference.

Re:Probbably not the first (2)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about 2 years ago | (#41658249)

The Wiki makes it sound VERY debatable. There's been an issue with air speed indicators showing false readings as you approach the sound barrier. I've heard stories of prop plane pilots thinking they broke the sound barrier in that era (which is supposed to be impossible).

Re:Probbably not the first (1)

thrich81 (1357561) | about 2 years ago | (#41658639)

You are right, you cannot trust airspeed indicators which were not designed for trans or supersonic flight. However, there is no debate that the F-86 could go supersonic (in a dive) so this story is plausible. There a several accounts in a quick Google search of F-86 pilots claiming supersonic flight. One account states that ,"One entire training flight in the F-86L was devoted to supersonic flight." (http://sabre-pilots.org/classics/v83mach.htm). So the aircraft was easily capable, just depends on whether Welch pushed it on that first flight or not.

Re:Probbably not the first (2)

Spy Handler (822350) | about 2 years ago | (#41659657)

I thought the big secret of going supersonic learned during the X-1 program (thanks to Jack Ridley's improvisation) was having a flying tail.

F-86 didn't get a flying tail until the E model. Welch was supposed to have broken the sound barrier in a steep dive with hinged elevators? Wouldn't the elevator lose all effectiveness due to the shockwaves slamming against the elevator hinge? Which, since he was in a steep dive, meant he couldn't pull out and thus crash into the ground or the plane disintegrating from exceeding VNE?

Re:Probbably not the first (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 2 years ago | (#41658743)

There's been an issue with air speed indicators showing false readings as you approach the sound barrier. I've heard stories of prop plane pilots thinking they broke the sound barrier in that era (which is supposed to be impossible).

Well, the entire plane may not have broken the sound barrier, but in modern days, the sound barrier does pose lots of technical challenges for parts of the plane. Propellers are often speed limited to prevent the tips from going supersonic (and helicopters have it worse - thanks to the long rotors means it's only a mix of RPM and speed).

Breaking the sound barrier in an entire aircraft is news, but breaking the sound barrier itself isn't. Heck, crack a whip and you'll see it in action (it's where the crack comes from - little sonic boom).

And yes, airspeed indicators get increasingly inaccurate because they rely on pressure difference to measure speed. Go fast enough, and you get heating due to frictional effects with air, and the buffeting caused by approaching supersonic speeds also influences the pitot tube.

Altitude plays a key role too - speed of sound varies by height - it's slower in thinner air (it's why you really want a Machmeter as it compensates). Going supersonic at sealevel is extremely difficult, but it gets much easier at altitude.

Re:Probbably not the first (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41658659)

There is a well *known* story to that effect, but it is most certainly *not* 'well established'. It has been shown that the F-86 *could* go supersonic in dives. Not that it *would*. There's a pretty big difference between those two statements.

Regardless, there isn't any verifiable data to conclusively state that Welch actually *did* break the sound barrier in the F-86. (There is conclusive evidence that he came pretty close, considering the airframe in question.)

Re:Probbably not the first (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 years ago | (#41659721)

The sound barrier was actually broken during WWII by German pilot Hans Guido Mutke in an ME-262. The XS-1 was actually based on Germany technology derived from that aircraft, and research done by the British.

WWII generated a lot of advanced tech that was kept secret and not recognized until years, often decades later. The first computer, Colossus, is another prominent example.

Re:Probbably not the first (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660829)

My father, who was a mechanic on the F-86 during the Korean Conflict (trained on the initial release, but was moved to the -D AWI model), got it first hand that the initial F-86s were "occassionally capable of going supersonic in the right atmospheric conditions, in a dive, with luck." It was just barely past mach 1.0 and couldn't do it with any consistency.

The F-86-D had an afterburning engine and could do it at will, granted, it wasn't "supposed" to. It took a shallow dive usually and everything had to be working right (wich was to say, not as often as they'd like). Later models got continual power upgrades, improved control surfaces (transonic flight requires different control strategies as the air currents around the fuselage and over the wings changes markedly as the shock wave collapses against the fuselage). The earlier F-86s were rather unstable in the transonic window whereas the later ones were. All in all, the F-86 was not designed to be supersonic.

As for the claims of the Swallow, the ME-262, going supersonic, it's very unlikely with its combat configuration. The combat model engines were not designed to handle supersonic airflow and would have likely not been able to propel the aircraft through the barrier. It also would have had sginificant control issues and, while I've never seen a windtunnel study of that particular plane, I suspect that it would have suffered a catastrophic loss of control at the barrier. Is it possible that a development prototype could have been pushed through the barrier once, on a good day? Technically, it could have. But, again, not consistently.

The Bell X-1, on the other hand, was purpose built to be able to consistently break the sound barrier at will. It did. It didn't care about atmospheric conditions. It just did it. Again, it was an experimental aircraft.

Taking all of that for what it is, I'm inclined to believe that Chuck was the first to break the sound barrier and live to tell the tale. The prototype sabre and the swallow weren't designed to be supersonic and likely would have resulted in the death of their pilots had they taken it across the barrier. Is it possible that one of the other claims was true? Technically, yes. Though, I personally believe that by being alive to tell the tale, the others didn't do it.

Re:Probbably not the first (1)

k6mfw (1182893) | about 2 years ago | (#41661929)

The aircraft was not instrumented to prove it at the time, but later it was conclusively shown that the F-86 would go supersonic in dives.

If it ain't documented, it didn't happen. Sorry but those are the breaks. Sometimes it ain't nice (Watson and Crick vs Franklin). Sometimes it who gets to the printer first (Newton vs Leibniz).

Other times it comes to splitting hairs... Kittinger's 1960 jump was not a freefall (he used a drogue) and Gagarin did not make the first human spaceflight (he didn't land in the spacecraft but parachuted from it). Cmon, stop arguing, Joe made the first skydive above 100K and Yuri was the first spaceman.

Re:Probbably not the first (1)

thrich81 (1357561) | about 2 years ago | (#41662401)

You are totally correct on your statements. I relayed the story in my first post because I had read it a long time ago in an Air and Space Smithsonian magazine and it seemed plausible ("probably", as I posted, is too strong). To an aviation buff, it is interesting whether it is likely that XF-86 really did exceed Mach 1 that day, even if it did, it was not going to go any faster as the X-1 did. The record, of course, goes to Yeager and the X-1. Whichever aircraft did exceed Mach 1 first is immaterial to the subsequent development of aviation. Different aircraft with different missions, both did quite well. And neither was unique -- each had real competitors on their heels.

Disputed claims (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 2 years ago | (#41656725)

There were a few pilots during and shortly WWII who claimed to have gone more than Mach 1.0. Some said the P-51 was capable of it in a power dive. Of course it was often fatal which makes Yeager's willingness to make the flight all the more impressive.

Re:Disputed claims (5, Interesting)

Hagaric (2591241) | about 2 years ago | (#41656807)

Highest speed ever recorded in a piston-engined aircraft was mach 0.92 in a spitfire.. the pilot only survived because the propeller and reduction gear got ripped off the aircraft and the resulting shift in the center of gravity caused an 11g pullout of an otherwise fatal dive. apparently the wings were distinctly "swept" after the event.

Re:Disputed claims (2)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#41656811)

The difference is that the WWII planes could only do it in a near-suicidal dive. The X-1 could do it intentionally, under normal powered flight.

Re:Disputed claims (1)

jmsp (1987118) | about 2 years ago | (#41657613)

The difference is that the WWII planes could only do it in a near-suicidal dive. The X-1 could do it intentionally, under normal powered flight.

2 things you may not know:

- The Me262 was a jet fighter/bomber. WWII plane. As cited in a post above, some claim it broke the sound barrier in levelled flight.

- The Me163 was a rocket fighter. Some claim it broke the sound barrier in 1944. The Bell X-1 is almost a copy of its design.

No official world records, I'm afraid. Well, there was this war going on, that made quite difficult for international records bodies to arrange for a convenient validation spot...

Of course, these planes were on the wrong side of History. So hardly anybody today knows they existed at all...

Too lazy for links. Just google "Me163" and "Me262".

Re:Disputed claims (4, Informative)

osu-neko (2604) | about 2 years ago | (#41657947)

- The Me262 was a jet fighter/bomber. WWII plane. As cited in a post above, some claim it broke the sound barrier in levelled flight.

No. No one (who knows anything) claims the Me 262 broke the sound barrier in level flight. It was a jet, but not a very fast one; it's not even remotely possible it could achieve that speed in level flight. One German pilot claimed to have done it in a 90 degree nosedive, but he was doubtless fooled by erroneous elevated readings from his pitot-based airspeed indicator that can often occur at high speeds. If he'd actually made it to trans-sonic speeds in an Me 262 airframe, he'd have ripped the wings off.

Re:Disputed claims (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660825)

"A computer-based performance analysis of the Me 262 carried out in 1999 at the Munich Technical University concluded that the Me 262 could indeed exceed Mach 1."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Guido_Mutke

Re:Disputed claims (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41659993)

- The Me163 was a rocket fighter. ... The Bell X-1 is almost a copy of its design.

You're kidding, right?

Re:Disputed claims (3, Informative)

Deadstick (535032) | about 2 years ago | (#41657049)

Most of those claims were based on what the pilot saw on the airspeed indicator. Trouble is, the reading on an ordinary ASI is meaningless from about Mach 0.9 up. A standard ASI senses the difference between the pitot and static air pressures; a Machmeter senses their ratio.

Re:Disputed claims (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about 2 years ago | (#41659403)

Not only that, but as the shockwave develops, it screws with the pressures sensed by the instruments causing erroneous readings, depending on where the Pitot tube and static inlets are installed.

Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (4, Informative)

Hagaric (2591241) | about 2 years ago | (#41656729)

Calling it a reenactment is just journalistic hyperbole.. As for the first to break the sound barrier, there are several contenders according to criteria.. Yaeger was the first to do it deliberately, measurably, in level flight, and survive. Geoffrey DeHavilland broke it in the DH108 but died in the process. The xf-86 prototype with George Welch almost certainly did it before him, but once again, in a barely-controlled dive. The same with all the other claims, they were not in control and they were lucky to survive, if they did.

Re:Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (1)

Deadstick (535032) | about 2 years ago | (#41657085)

Actually, I hate the expression "sound barrier". It is not, and never has been, a barrier; it's a hurdle.

Re:Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41657289)

it's a hurdle.

So, like a barrier you have to go over.

Re:Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41658177)

Actually, you have to go through it, but people thought that "the sound paper wall" sounded stupid.

Re:Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (2)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 2 years ago | (#41657523)

It is not, and never has been, a barrier; it's a hurdle.

I... er... uh... what?

And what is a hurdle if not a low barrier?

It was a barrier, for several reasons. One is that on entering the transonic regime, drag increases massively. The other is that aircraft tended to go out of control and crash unpleasantly, or get low enough that they were no longer supersonic, with a return of control.

The problems were mostly solved by a better understangind of aerodynamics. For instance, increasing the critical mach number decreased the size of the transsonic region, and using area ruling greatly reduced the wave drag. Even so, high power engines are still required to go supersonic, after which the drag drops off considerably.

The other problem is that shockwaves interact with subsonic wing designs in all sorts of nasty ways, including flexing effects etc. This problem was solved with a better understading of aerodynamics, controlling where the shockwave starts and goes and a commensurate understanding of how to prevent nasty flexing effects.

Re:Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (4, Informative)

tqk (413719) | about 2 years ago | (#41657633)

It is not, and never has been, a barrier; it's a hurdle.

You're mistaken. Back then, approaching the speed of sound, every plane went into a phase of uncontrollable buffeting. The theory back then was any faster and any plane would break apart. Yeager's X-1 flight proved it wasn't true. Past the speed of sound, you fly faster than the turbulence and it's as smooth as silk.

I'm glad to hear Chuck's still flying, and not in a liquid fueled bomb.

Re:Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (1)

vmaxxxed (734128) | about 2 years ago | (#41657643)

Ok, well I wish you take a steep dive with a WII propeller fighter and you will see why it is called a barrier ...

-Alejandro

Re:Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (1)

Hagaric (2591241) | about 2 years ago | (#41659011)

As I understand it, the term "sound barrier" came about because hitting "compressibility limits" in ww2-era thick-winged aircraqft "felt like flying into a brick wall"...

Re:Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (1)

sjames (1099) | about 2 years ago | (#41661041)

Until it was broken, it FELT like a barrier. It is literally broken through when flying as well.

Re:Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | about 2 years ago | (#41659921)

Yaeger was the first to do it deliberately, measurably, in level flight,

Actually X-1 was designed to break the sound barrier while going up. The designers knew from previous attempts by others that as you get very close to Mach 1, the elevator stops working. All the previous attempts were done while in a dive, and they all lost the use of their elevators, and they all died as their planes disintegrated because they couldn't pull out.

Bell's solution was that they would attempt Mach 1 while going UP, not diving. This would ensure that even if they lost the elevator, since the plane is pointed upward, it would lose speed eventually and enable the pilot to regain control. To this end they made the X-1 small and light, while giving it big powerful rocket engines. (rocket engines > jet engines)

Re:Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (2)

dywolf (2673597) | about 2 years ago | (#41659937)

There never been any proof that any of those planes actually achieved Mach 1+. None. The single biggest source of all speculation is the fact the USAF kept Yeager's flight secret for over a year, and only said something after the Brits finally did it successfully.

Re:Commemorative flight, not re-enactment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41661665)

To clarify, this is a reference to Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr.

Pathetic (-1, Troll)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 years ago | (#41657089)

I guess Yeager's trying to suck up some of Baumgartner's spotlight.

It must have really stung Yeagar to watch Baumgartner. After all, anyone can break the sound barrier in a fucking plane.

Baumgartner did it by jumping from the outer stratosphere. You wanna talk about the Right goddamn Stuff...

Yeager's such a pussy.

Re:Pathetic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41659291)

... anyone can break the sound barrier in a fucking plane ...

Anyone can fall to the ground

Re:Pathetic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41661981)

Fuck off junior. First of all, Chuck Yeager went to Columbia as an undergrad, I thought, and second, he wasn't the only person to have gone to Columbia.

If there's one thing that's pretty obvious to anyone with eyes, Chuck Yeager is healthy and undeformed.

God, you've really be an asshole to read my comment and think "Chuck Norris". I suppose you have pictures of him photoshopped with a bone through his nose, too. Let me make a note for future reference: "Chuck Norris is a racist asshole, probably a right-wing tool on top of it." OK, got it.

This is shameless self-promotion for publicity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41657199)

Yeager has done a fine job milking his past achievements for his own personal gain.

But this is old stuff and it is boring now.

If you want to see some people who really are putting it on the line
this year, check out the Vendee Globe sailboat race which runs
around the world nonstop and is singlehanded.

Re:This is shameless self-promotion for publicity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41659379)

Its not someone merely putting it on the line, its someone making a meaningful achievement. Yacht races don't quite meet that threshold.

Big Brass Ones ... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#41657245)

Hiding the pain of broken ribs from a midnight horse race after a night of drinking at Pancho Barnes' Happy Bottom Riding Club, Yeager squeezed into the aircraft with no safe way to bail out.

If that isn't proof he's sporting a huge pair and was one tough son of a bitch, I don't know what is.

These guys were awesome.

Re:Big Brass Ones ... (1)

ThurstonMoore (605470) | about 2 years ago | (#41658545)

They're tough in Myra, WV.

Bell X-1? Bah..... (1)

segedunum (883035) | about 2 years ago | (#41657681)

Surely you mean a Miles M52? ;-)

This would have been a lot better.. (2)

sargon666777 (555498) | about 2 years ago | (#41657901)

This would have been a lot better if he just made jet noises, and a plane shape out of his hand, and after going.. boom and thrusting his hand forward exclaimed.. "And that's how I broke the sound barrier!"

Wasn't Chuck Yeager injured or sick? (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 2 years ago | (#41658303)

Two nights before the scheduled date for the flight, he broke two ribs while riding a horse. He was so afraid of being removed from the mission that he went to a veterinarian in a nearby town for treatment and told only his wife, as well as friend and fellow project pilot Jack Ridley about it. Yeager in front of the Bell X-1, which, as with all of the aircraft assigned to him, he named Glamorous Glennis (or some variation thereof), after his wife. Yeager in the Bell X-1 cockpit. On the day of the flight, Yeager was in such pain that he could not seal the airplane's hatch by himself. Ridley rigged up a device, using the end of a broom handle as an extra lever, to allow Yeager to seal the hatch of the X-1.

[ Citation Provided [wikipedia.org] ]

Chuck Yeager was actually nursing an injury on that day. And that he hid the fact that he was medically unfit to test that plane from his commanding officers. Because that flight was successful, everyone forgave Chuck. But he could have crashed the plane and set the program back by an year. In my eyes he is just a glory seeker, who put his personal ambition ahead of the interests of his mission.

Re:Wasn't Chuck Yeager injured or sick? (3, Insightful)

megalomaniacs4u (199468) | about 2 years ago | (#41659795)

In other words he was a typical test pilot of the time.

Re:Wasn't Chuck Yeager injured or sick? (1)

neo-mkrey (948389) | about 2 years ago | (#41662323)

It's obvious where your broomstick is located.

Chuck Yeager gave me my wings (1)

jasonross (2751579) | about 2 years ago | (#41659059)

And a hundred or so other Air Cadet pilots, at our graduation ceremony. To celebrate to 50th anniversary of the RCAF, special guests were brought in to pin the wings on the graduating pilots at ceremonies around Canada. Ontario got the Prince of Wales, the Maritimes got Chuck Yeager. Usually Ontario gets the special treatment in Canada, but as newly minted pilots, having the first (official) man to break the sound barrier and decorated WWII fighter pilot decorate us, I think we all agreed that we won out that day!

Being 89 and breaking the sound barrier (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41662085)

Being 89 years old and breaking the sound barrier has to be a record on it's own.

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