14 October 2012: At 12:08 p.m. MDT (1808 UTC) Felix Baumgartner jumped from the gondola of a helium-filled balloon at 127,852.4 feet (38,969.4 meters) over eastern New Mexico.
The free fall distance was 119,431.1 feet (36,402.6 meters). He fell for 4 minutes, 19 seconds before deploying his parachute and touched down after nine minutes, 3 seconds. During the free fall, he reached 843.6 miles per hour (1,357.6 kilometers per hour), Mach 1.25.
The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) recognizes three Sub-Class G-2 World Records set by Baumgartner with this jump:
16669: Vertical Speed Without Drogue: 1,357.6 kilometers per hour (843.6 miles per hour miles per hour)
Felix Baumgartner wore a custom-made full-pressure suit designed and manufactured by the David Clark Co., Worcester, Massachusetts, based on their S1034 Improved Common Suit.
The helium balloon, with a volume 29,470,000 cubic feet, was manufactured by Raven Aerostar, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Baumgartner’s pressure capsule was designed and built by Sage Cheshire Aerospace, Lancaster, California.
Living up to his “right stuff” reputation as the wise-cracking test pilot and daring World War II hero, the legendary Chuck Yeager returned Sunday to Nellis Air Force Base after re-enacting in a blue-gray F-15D Eagle jet what he did 65 years ago in a mustard-colored X-1 rocket plane: break the sound barrier soaring high over California’s Mojave Desert.
Upon landing, with his escort pilot Capt. David Vincent taxiing the Eagle under plumes of water shot from two firetrucks, the 89-year-old Yeager climbed down a ladder from the cockpit. He did so to the applause of Nellis airmen, their families, his wife, Victoria, and film crews who documented the 65th anniversary of his most cherished feat as the first human to fly faster than sound.
What was going through his mind when Vincent, 30, throttled the aircraft into a blurry descent from 45,000 feet to 30,000 feet and leveled off with a speed of Mach 1.4, or more than 670 mph, sending a sonic boom across Edwards Flight Test Range?
“Nothing,” Yeager deadpanned. “Flying is flying. You just can’t add a lot to it.”
He said he just gazed out the jet’s clear canopy, looking down on the many dry lake beds that he landed on as a test pilot. Like the other times he achieved supersonic flight, the F-15D on Sunday sent a shock wave through the azure sky over the same patch of desert Yeager flew over for decades, at the same time he did it 65 years ago, 10:24 a.m.
Meanwhile, as Yeager was returning to Nellis, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, wearing a pressurized suit, emerged from the capsule of a towering, helium-filled balloon and leaped from a metal platform 128,000 feet over New Mexico near Roswell. In his descent he reached 833.9 mph or Mach 1.24.
Yeager was not impressed.
“Joe Kittinger did that years ago. He’s not doing anything new,” he said.
Yeager was referring to U.S. Air Force Capt. Joseph W. Kittinger, who, on Aug. 16, 1960, stepped from the gondola of a helium balloon at 102,800 feet and sped to 714 mph, breaking the sound barrier in a four-minute free fall through the stratosphere before his parachute opened.
The speed of sound is about 750 mph at sea level and roughly 660 mph at 30,000 feet altitude.
About an hour after his anniversary flight, Yeager spoke to U.S. Air Force pilots, airmen and their families gathered in a Nellis auditorium. At the end of his presentation, while fielding questions from the audience, Yeager used the occasion to mock Baumgartner’s supersonic achievement.
“Hey, what are you proving?” he asked, questioning the accuracy of Baumgartner’s reported speed.
“I don’t know where you stick a pitot tube in him,” he said, referring to an instrument that protrudes from the nose of an aircraft to measure its velocity.
Yeager said he loved flying the Bell X-1 rocket plane that vaulted him into aviation history on Oct. 14, 1947, but it’s no comparison to the twin-engine F-15 Eagle, a warplane that is more reliable and economical, he said, than the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor, a stealthy air-superiority jet, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter touted as the workhorse warplane of the future.
“If I was going to fight a war, I’d take an F-15 over anything we’ve got,” he said.
He said he chose to fly from Nellis instead of Edwards Air Force Base because the test center at Edwards didn’t have a two-seat, F-15 available and he didn’t want to fly an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
And this ace, who shot down five German Messerschmitt-109 fighter planes in a single day in October 1944, knows airplanes, having flown 180 different ones during his storied career.
He said by far the slowest one he’s flown was a Wright Flyer, like the one Orville and Wilbur Wright flew in their groundbreaking first powered flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903.
“It didn’t go faster than sound. It just sounded faster than it was flying,” Yeager recalled.
His fame soared in 1979, when Chuck Yeager, who was born Charles Elwood Yeager, became a household name with author Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Right Stuff.” The book, which was later made into a movie, recounted the story of the day the bullet-shaped Bell X-1 rocket plane made history when Yeager guided it beyond Mach 1. The plane was strapped to the belly of a B-29 bomber and released at a high altitude before he powered it up for the record-setting feat.
“The most important thing that I did was fly the X-1 through Mach 1,” he told reporters gathered on the Nellis ramp Sunday.
“Up until that time we had never been able to get above the speed of sound. We had problems with controls and stuff like that. Finally, on October 14, ’47 we succeeded in pushing Mach 1 and it opened up space to us,” he said.
Just before he took off Sunday, his wife, Victoria Yeager, shared her excitement and noted the parallel of having Vincent, a young captain, have the honor of being the escort pilot like her husband was in 1947.
“This is so cool,” she said. “This captain is as much of a maverick as General Yeager is. He (Yeager) is in the back seat where the instructor pilot sits because he’s the elder statesman.”
After the flight, Vincent remarked about his role in the re-enactment flight and how Yeager made him feel at ease.
He said Yeager held up “better than I did” during the flight and made the chase plane’s pilot, Col. Pete Ford, jealous because of all the stories that Yeager told him in the cockpit.
“He was talking it up like he was back home,” said Vincent, who flies with the 65th Aggressor Squadron.
“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,” he said.
“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.
14 October 1997: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of his historic supersonic flight in the Bell X-1 research rocketplane, Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, United States Air Force (Retired) once again broke the Sound Barrier when he flew over Edwards Air Force Base in a McDonnell Douglas F-15D-38-MC Eagle, serial number 84-046. Lieutenant Colonel Troy Fontaine flew in the rear seat of the two-place fighter. Glamorous Glennis III was painted on the Eagle’s nose.
The Associated Press reported that an estimated 1,000 spectators were at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert north of Los Angeles, California, to see this historic flight.
My friend, aviation photographer Tim Bradley, and I were there. Tim took the photograph above a few minutes after General Yeager landed. As he concluded his comments to the crowd, he said, “All that I am. . . I owe to the Air Force.”
14 October 1977: On the Thirtieth Anniversary of his historic supersonic flight in the Bell X-1, Brigadier General Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Retired), returned to Edwards Air Force Base where he flew a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter to Mach 1.5.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Section 8742, Title 10, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Pararescueman on a HH-3E Rescue Helicopter in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1969. On that date, Sergeant Smith voluntarily descended to the surface on a forest penetrator to assist a downed pilot. As he and the pilot were being raised, hostile fire rendered the hoist inoperative and the cable was sheared, dropping them fifteen feet to the ground. Sergeant Smith’s position was surrounded by hostile forces, and his helicopter was downed by hostile fire. Remaining exceptionally calm, his resolute and decisive presence encouraged other survivors, while his resourcefulness in controlling and directing the aircraft providing suppressive fire, resulted in the safe recovery of all downed personnel. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Sergeant Smith reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Master Sergeant Smith’s official Air Force biography reads:
Donald Smith was born on June 7, 1935, in Prairie City, Oregon. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on April 10, 1954, and after completing basic training, he was trained as a Survival Training and Personnel Equipment Specialist at Chanute AFB, Illinois. His first assignment was as a survival training & personnel equipment specialist with the 3635th and 3636th Combat Crew Training Squadrons at Stead AFB, Nevada, from December 1954 to February 1958, followed by Fuel Supply Specialist training at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, from February to May 1958. Sgt Smith served as a fuel supply specialist with the 3242nd Maintenance Squadron and the 4135th Strategic Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida, from May 1958 to February 1959, and then with the 389th Support Squadron and the 389th Strategic Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, from March 1959 to April 1963. He then attended Rescue & Survival Technician training before serving as a Pararescueman with the 54th Air Rescue Squadron (later redesignated the 31st Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Squadron) at Goose AB, Labrador, from November 1963 to March 1965, and then deployed to Clark AB in the Philippines from March 1965 to April 1968. During this time, Sgt Smith deployed to Vietnam from April 1965 to August 1966. His next assignment was as a Pararescueman with the 305th Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Squadron (ARRS) from September 1968 to July 1969, followed by service with the 37th ARRS at DaNang AB, South Vietnam, from July 1969 to June 1970. Sgt Smith served as NCOIC of Pararescue Standardization with Headquarters Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service at Scott AFB, Illinois, from June 1970 to May 1971, and then served as a Pararescueman with the 48th ARRS at Fairchild AFB, Washington, from June 1971 to February 1975. His final assignment was with the 3636th Combat Crew Training Wing at Fairchild AFB from February 1975 until his retirement from the Air Force on June 1, 1976.