BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER: THE INTELLECTUAL BREAKTHROUGHS IN AERODYNAMICS THAT MADE IT POSSIBLE

 

John D. Anderson, Jr.

Curator for Aerodynamics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

and

Professor Emeritus, Aerospace Engineering

University of Maryland

 

Abstract:

 

            On October 14, 1947, the small but beautiful Bell X-1 became the first piloted airplane to fly faster than sound, with Captain Chuck Yeager at the controls. This flight was a breakthrough in the history of the airplane; Yeager and the X-1 had broken the “sound barrier”. But this flight was made possible by a century of breakthroughs in the understanding of high-speed aerodynamics. This presentation deals with these breakthroughs. We will see how our understanding of shock waves evolved, and how the mysteries of high-speed aerodynamics were slowly revealed, allowing men and flying machines to finally achieve what was considered by some to be impossible – flying faster than the speed of sound. This presentation is for a general audience as well as for engineers. It tells one of the most exciting stories in the history of aerodynamics.