On October 14, 1947, U.S. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound.
Yeager, a West Virginia native, was a combat pilot during World War II, flying 64 missions over Europe. He claimed 13 Axis kills and was shot down over France. He evaded the Nazis on the ground with aid from the French Underground. After the war ended, he was one of the pilots to test-fly the experimental X-1 rocket plane, built by the Bell Aircraft Company specifically to attempt to break the sound barrier, something many thought impossible.
Many thought the drag from supersonic speed would tear an airplane apart until Yeager flew his X-1 over Rogers Dry Lake in Southern California. A B-29 carried his X-1 to 25,000 feet and then released it through the bomb bay, blasting to 40,000 feet and then to 662 miles per hour which is the sound barrier at that altitude. The rocket plane, nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis,” was designed with a .50 caliber bullet in mind.
The project was still classified however, and Yeager’s speed was not announced until June 1948. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1975 with the rank of brigadier general. Yeager, now 92, tweeted this on the 2015 anniversary of his first supersonic flight:
Today, 68 years ago, at 10:24am,I broke the sound barrier w/ only 1.5 minutes of fuel. I told Ridley: Something wrong with this Mach meter
— Chuck Yeager (@GenChuckYeager) October 15, 2015