Friday, October 14, 2016

Chuck Yeager Finds The Perfectly Paved Supersonic Speedway

Capt. Chuck Yeager poses with his Bell X-1, "Glorious Glennis," 1947

October 14, 1947:

... Bob Cardenas, the B-29 driver, asked if I was ready.
"Hell, yes," I said. "Let's get it over with.
"He dropped the X-1 at 20,000 feet, but his dive speed was once again too slow and the X-1 started to stall. I fought it with the control wheel for about five hundred feet, and finally got her nose down. The moment we picked up speed I fired all four rocket chambers in rapid sequence. We climbed at .88 Mach and began to buffet, so I flipped the stabilizer switch and changed the setting two degrees. We smoothed right out, and at 36,000 feet, I turned off two rocket chambers. At 40,000 feet, we were still climbing at a speed of .92 Mach. Leveling off at 42,000 feet, I had thirty percent of my fuel, so I turned on rocket chamber three and immediately reached .96 Mach. I noticed the faster I got, the smoother the ride. Suddenly the Mach needle began to fluctuate. It went up to .965 Mach - then tipped right off the scale. I thought I was seeing things! We were flying supersonic! And it was as smooth as a baby's bottom: Grandma could be sitting up there sipping lemonade. I kept the speed off the scale for about twenty seconds, and raised the nose to slow down. I was thunderstruck. After all the anxiety, breaking the sound barrier turned out to be a perfectly paved speedway. 
I radioed Jack in the B-29,
"Hey, Ridley, that Machmeter is acting screwy. It just went off the scale on me."
"Fluctuated off?""Yeah, at point nine-six-five."
"Son, you is imagining things."
"Must be. I'm still wearing my ears and nothing else fell off, neither."
 .  .  . 

And so I was a hero this day. As usual, the fire trucks raced out to where the ship had rolled to a stop on the lakebed. As usual, I hitched a ride back to the hangar with the fire chief. That warm desert sun really felt wonderful. My ribs ached.

The flight didn't hurt his ribs. He cracked two of them in a horseback riding accident a day and a half earlier but he wasn't about to let the issue keep him from an important mission. 

Chuck Yeager rode into the history books on the shoulders of scores of aerospace pioneers who helped him reach that speedway in the sky. Today, Yeager is 93 years old. He lives in Penn Valley, California, and continues to lead a very active life flying, fishing, and managing the General Chuck Yeager Foundation.

Interested readers can learn more about the man and 
the early years of the nation's aviation and aerospace history in Yeager: An Autobiography, an outstanding read originally published in 1985. A valuable companion book providing context and additional history on the nation's early manned space program is Tom Wolfe's  1979 classic, The Right Stuff.


Photos and Illustrations:
Yeager with Bell X-1, U.S. Air Force,


quotation, Yeager: An Autobiography, General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janus, Bantam, 1985.

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