Thursday, October 14, 2010

Breaking Barriers

It is 14 October 1947, in the still cool morning at Muroc Army Airfield the modified B-29 is positioned over the loading pit (a large trench in the ground that allows for the attaching of the test article onto the aircraft belly) it's payload ready. Strapped to the belly of the "mother" or carrier aircraft is the experimental aircraft dubbed "Glamorous Glennis", the Bell Aerospace X-1 aircraft. Painted all in orange (easier to be found in case it crashed out on the desert), shaped like a 50 caliper bullet and equipped with a rocket motor built by Robert Goddard himself the small crowd gathered once again to attempt what up till now had been impossible. Or at least possible and living to tell about it.

Going faster than the speed of sound. Breaking what was known as the Sound Barrier had been attempted many times before, mainly by accident and always in failure, fatal failure in fact.
A Bell X-1 aircraft being loaded onto a B-29/B-50
carrier aircraft. Circa 1951. (NASA Photo)
Not today.

In amongst the crowd that had gathered that October morning was a gregarious Air Force Test Pilot. A war veteran having fought in the skies over France in the P-51 Mustang. He was shot out of the sky once and evaded capture for several months, assisting the French Reistance in the process. Once back in Allied hands he was re-instated to flight status and eventually shot down 11 enemy aircraft including 1 ME-262 Jet aircraft. As an Air Force Captain and Test Pilot Chuck Yeager had earned a reputation of being both through in flight test and evaluation but also of having no fear.

It was Yeager's turn in the X-1. He would not fail.

Today is the anniversary of that milestone; controlled and sustained flight above the speed of sound. Most people know of this event only from the Book and movie named "The Right Stuff". The movie accurately depicts the dangers of early flight testing at what was Muroc Army Airfield. Today it is called Edwards Air Force Base home of Flight Testing for the USAF and NASA which operates the Dryden Flight Research Center from the same dry lake bed.
Edwards AFB and NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on the edge of Rogers Dry Lake.

From this testing we learned so much that has advanced flying that today more than 10 million people will be in the air flying point to point, today in one day. Maybe only Electricity, indoor plumbing and the motor car are the only other items that have advanced the human condition more than manned flight. And much of the success of understanding the bounds of flight have come from that one flight in October 1947.

Not so much the raw intelligence gathered from the flight data, but from the Man and Men who came later, in subsequent flights of other "X-Planes", who would not back down at the unknown.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

1 comment:

Buck said...

I'm sure ya know this... but Yeager was a boyhood hero of mine. And he still is.