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Chuck Yeager made history 70 years ago by breaking the barrier

October 14, 2017 - UNITED STATES

In a test flight over the Mojave desert 70 years ago, Air Force Captain Charles "Chuck" Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. His feat gave the world supersonic flight. Seventy years on, practical application of his achievement is still a challenge.

A thunderous crack was heard over the Mojave when Yeager nudged the bullet-shaped experimental plane faster than the speed of sound. The so-called sonic boom, when the aircraft breaks the sound barrier of 343 metres per second, or 767 mph, curbs many prospective uses for supersonic flight. The boom causes property damage, a reason supersonic flight has been banned for overland flights in the United States and Europe.

A supersonic airliner would have to be as quiet and economical as the best existing subsonic aeroplane, goals that are impossible for the present. The 70th anniversary invites a progress report on aviation design aimed at quietening the boom.

Though his feat was eclipsed in 2004 when the present air speed record was set - Mach 9.6, or nearly 7,000 mph in NASA's X-43A scramjet, 94-year-old Yeager remains the country's most famous test pilot. His feat will be revisited officially in Congress, where, ten years ago, on the 60th anniversary, Congress enacted H.Res. 736 (110th) to honour "the aeronautics research accomplishments embodied in the breaking of the sound barrier. A remake of the movie based on The Right Stuff, the 1979 best seller by Tom Wolfe that immortalized Yeager's exploits, is a possibility on the anniversary, as well as a re-release of the 1983 movie by the same.

A combat fighter during World War II, Yeager was among volunteers chosen to test-fly the experimental X-1 rocket plane to explore the possibility of supersonic flight. When he broke the sound barrier, he achieved instant and lingering fame. He flew more than 120 combat missions in Vietnam and continued to act as a flight consultant for the air force until his last flight on October 14, 1997.

Breaking the Sound Barrier | The Greatest Moments in Flight

Why We Don't Have an SST (Air and Space (Aug 2014)

Chuck Yeager Fast Facts (CNN 26 Feb 2017)

Date written/update: 2017-04-14