65 Years After Breaking The Speed Of Sound, Chuck Yeager Does It Again
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
It was a special morning on October 14, 1947 when Chuck Yeager became the first person–although often contended by aviation enthusiasts–to fly faster than the speed of sound. Yeager, who flew an experimental X-1 at Mach 1 at 45,000 feet, said at the time he was worried he would have been pulled from the mission if he would have let on that he was in intense pain from two broken ribs he received from falling off a horse two days prior. Despite flying injured, the now retired Brigadier General, sealed his place in history as the fastest man alive.
Fast Forward to October 14, 2012, and Mr. Yeager is at it once again–this time injury free, yet not as young and spry as he once was. 65 years to the day after Yeager first made his historic supersonic flight, the 89-year-old legend hopped in a USAF F-15 at 10:24 a.m. over the Mojave Desert, and flew into the record books once again.
Not only did Yeager break the sound barrier for the second time in his life, he nearly replicated his 1947 flight in the fact that it occurred on the same day, same time, nearly to the same minute, and in the same region of sky over the Mojave Desert. The only difference had been the aircraft, and the fact that he was now 65 years older.
And perhaps even more inspiring, is the fact that Mr. Yeager completed his second supersonic flight on the very same day that daredevil extraordinaire Felix Baumgartner became the first man to ever break the speed of sound outside of an aircraft (Joe Kittinger first attempted the feat in 1960).
Fearless Felix, as he is known, set a world record for jumping out of a balloon-lifted capsule at more than 128,000 feet and freefalling through the heavens, reaching speeds in excess of several hundred miles per hour, and breaking the sound barrier along the way. For Felix, he truly has ‘gone where no man has gone before.’
But for Yeager, many people have gone where he has gone since he first set the supersonic record in 1947. However, few people can say they have done it twice, and then of course, 65 years apart.
“I really appreciated the Air Force giving me a brand new F-15 to fly,” Yeager added.
Yeager rode in the seat of the F-15 behind Captain David Vincent of the 65th Aggressor Squadron to commemorate the anniversary of his 1947 feat, which gained fame when Tom Wolfe detailed the flight in his book “The Right Stuff,” which also became a hit movie of the same name in 1983.
Mach speeds are no big feat for pilots today, and apparently not for Yeager either. “Flying is flying,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “You can’t add a lot to it.””
When asked what he thought of Baumgartner’s feat, Yeager said that he was not aware of the famed skydiver’s record-breaking freefall. However, he said he was not really impressed.
“Joe Kittinger did that years ago. He’s not doing anything new,” Yeager said.
After landing in the Mojave Desert, completing his anniversary flight, Yeager spoke to USAF pilots, airmen and their families gathered at a Nellis auditorium.
He talked about his inaugural record-breaking flight in 1947, saying it was a risky maneuver, being dropped in an experimental rocket-propelled Bell X-1 jet from a B-29 Bomber at 45,000 feet.
“That’s the only way we could do it,” he said. “It took the British, French and the Soviet Union another five years to find out that trick. It gave us a quantum jump” in aviation advancement, he said.
During this second supersonic flight, Yeager said, although he was sitting behind Vincent in the F-15, he was actually at the controls when it broke the sound barrier over Edwards. “We had to keep it below Mach 1.4. If you want to go Mach 2, you start breaking glasses and cracking roofs.” Still, he wasn’t disappointed with the outcome.
Yeager said he didn’t think the flight was anything special. When asked by a young girl if he was scared, he jokingly said: “Yeah, I was scared as hell,” according to an AP report.
His wife, however, was a little more amped. “This is so cool. I’m excited,” Victoria Yeager told the LV Review-Journal, adding of her husband, “He’s in the back seat where the instructor pilot sits because he’s the elder statesman.”
Vincent, taking up the front seat, said: “That was the best flight of my life. It was a dream come true. … And to be there with one of the world’s greatest plots was an absolute honor.”
“It was like being there with Christopher Columbus or Orville and Wilbur Wright. He broke the sound barrier, something that everyone was terrified of doing. He had the bravery and skill to be able to do that. It was amazing,” Vincent said.
At the end of his presentation, Yeager mocked Baumgartner’s supersonic achievement, asking: “Hey, what are you proving?”
“I don’t know where you stick a pilot tube in him,” said Yeager, referring to an instrument that is placed on the nose of an aircraft to measure its velocity.
Some reports suggested Baumgartner fell at speeds in excess of 835 mph during his record-breaking freefall.
Yeager’s X-1 is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. Yeager was awarded the MacKay and Collier Trophies in 1948 for his supersonic flight, and the Harmon International Trophy in 1954.