Living Sound Barrier Legends

by Guy Norris
Nov 06, 2017

A remarkable reunion occurred recently at Edwards AFB, California when the two key veterans involved in the breaking of the sound barrier in 1947 returned to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the achievement.  Meeting on stage on October 13, the day before the anniversary, were 94-year-old Brig. Gen (Ret.) Chuck Yeager, pilot of the experimental Bell XS-1 and 97-year-old Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Bob Cardenas, the pilot of the specially modified Boeing B-29 carrier aircraft which launched Yeager on his historic flight. 

Kept secret at the time, news of the record speed achievement of Mach 1.06 was broken by Aviation Week two months later, marking one of the industry scoops of the 20th century.  At the time, the pursuit of high-speed flight in excess of the speed of sound had become a serious technical challenge for the early jet designers. Teams across America, Britain and France were racing to be the first to push a manned aircraft beyond Mach 1.

On the day of the flight, Cadenas piloted the B-29 to 23,000 ft. over Muroc Dry Lake, California, before releasing the XS-1, later simply designated the X-1. Dropping clear of the bomber Yeager ignited the XS-1’s Reaction Motors XLR11 rocket engine and climbed to 43,000 ft. The rocket accelerated the aircraft to Mach 1.06, or 700 mph, making the XS-1 the first aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound. The small aircraft, shaped after the contours of the .50 caliber bullet, went on to fly 78 times, and on March 26, 1948, with Yeager in the cockpit, it reached Mach 1.45. This marked the highest speed reached by a manned aircraft up to that time.

Discuss this Blog Entry 18

on Nov 6, 2017

I have photographed both, and would have liked to have been there.

on Nov 6, 2017

I believe Cadenas also did a lot of work on the B-49 jet flying wing. I’ll bet that was a great reunion.

on Nov 6, 2017

Truman ordered him to fly theYB-49 down Pennsylvania ave which he did at treetop level

on Nov 6, 2017

Only achieved by the USA stealing and copying the British Miles M52 design.

on Nov 6, 2017

Oh please, what silly nonsense from a b#tthurt Brit.

on Nov 6, 2017

I have heard a Yank say that the flying tail, critical to controllability at high speed was a US design given to the Brits. I have heard a Brit say exactly the same vice versa.

on Nov 6, 2017

Only the moveable tail had any similarity to the British M52.

on Nov 6, 2017

The flying/slab tail borrowed from the Brits was that very silver bullet that allowed to pass the Mach one without the dreaded tuck under.

on Nov 6, 2017

Sorry to burst several person's bubbles - but the "one-piece stabilator" (flying/slab tail) was flown in the US in 1942 - on the Curtis XP-42!

on Nov 6, 2017

That must be a picture from a later flight as the carrier aircraft in the photo is a B-50. The taller tail and the engine nacelles are distinctive.

on Nov 6, 2017

If you look closely at the edges of the aircraft (particularly the props on the B-50) you realize this was "photoshopped" (or its 1950s equivalent)!

on Nov 6, 2017

khorton is correct. The photo was taken by Los Angeles Times photographer Phil Bath on 26 April 1950 during the penultimate flight of X-1 #46-062 (the last flight was filmed for the movie Test Pilot). Yeager was the driver. This is the bird that hangs from the ceiling at the National Air & pace Museum.

on Nov 6, 2017

Great information, Thank You! To add to that, the carrier aircraft was EB-50A USAF serial 46-006. The E prefix I believe means “exempt” from the standard USAF tech orders on the type, a product of her conversion to carrier aircraft. She did not last much longer, for on 09 Nov 1951 she was destroyed on the ground at Edwards. She had landed after a captive flight with X-1 46-064 and was holding the rocket plane as tank pressurization problems were being sorted out. Pilot Joe Cannon attempted to pressurize the oxygen when the X-1 exploded due to a contaminated tank system. Two were killed that day. The ensuing fire destroyed both the B-50 and the second X-1 almost... sent back to Bell, her rebuilt remains became the famous X-1E that took Yeager on the ride...and went out to Mach 2.21. She is displayed on a pole under the skies where she set her records and proved her science.

on Nov 6, 2017

If I read the books well, the leather gaskets that tended to explode when soaked in LOX and stressed were the cause for several of serious mishaps with the X-1s. All this aside, Mr. Yeager was the first one "thru the wall" and he fully deserves all the glory ultimately bestowed upon him for this feat.

on Nov 6, 2017

I thought the yanks only stole from the Germans?

on Nov 7, 2017

You Russians did plenty of stealing yourselves, but you stole the wrong guys.

on Nov 6, 2017

Everybody steals from anybody....

on Nov 6, 2017

"All modern aircraft have four dimensions: span, length, height and politics."

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