During a competition for the Coupe Deutsch de la Meurthe, Lieutenant Le Marquis Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet of France’s Aéronautique Militaire flew a Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V to set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 268.63 kilometers per hour (166.92 miles per hour).¹
De Romanet’s Ni-D 29V was one of three racing variants of the highly successful single-engine, single-seat Ni-D 29C.1 biplane fighter, which was the fastest in the world at the time. The Ni-D 29V was 21 feet, 3.5 inches (6.489 meters) long, with a wing span of just 6.00 meters (19 feet, 8¼ inches), shortened from the 31 feet, 10 inch (9.703 meters) wingspan of the standard production chasseur.
The airplane was powered by a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 18.473 liter (1,127.29-cubic-inch displacement) right-hand tractor Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single overhead cam (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine, modified to increase its output to 320 horsepower. This was a direct-drive engine, and turned a two-bladed-fixed pitch propeller. The engine was 1.32 meters (4 feet, 4 inches) long, 0.89 meters (2 feet, 11 inches) wide, and 0.88 meters (2 feet, 10½ inches) high. It weighed 256 kilograms (564 pounds).
The standard airplane had a top speed of 235 kilometers per hour (146 miles per hour), a range of 580 kilometers (360 miles) and a service ceiling of 8,500 meters (27,887 feet).
Le Marquis Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet was born at Saint-Maurice-de-Sathonay, Saône-et-Loire, Bourgogne, France, 28 January 1894. He was the son of Léonard Jean Michel Barny de Romanet and Marie Noémie Isabelle de Veyssière. He descended from a very old French family.
Bernard de Romanet joined the Cavalry at the age of 18 years. During World War I, he served with both cavalry and infantry regiments as a Maréchel de Logis (master sergeant) before transferring to the Aéronautique Militaire in July 1915, as a photographer and observer.
After completing flight training in 1916, de Romanet was assigned as a pilot. In early 1918, de Romanet trained as a fighter pilot. He shot down his first enemy airplane 23 May 1918, for which he was awarded the Médaille Militaire, and was promoted to Adjutant (warrant officer). De Romanet was commissioned as a Sous-Lieutenant (equivalent to a second lieutenant in the United States military) several months later. After a fourth confirmed victory he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (first lieutenant).
By August 1918, he was in command of Escadrille 167. He was officially credited with having shot down 18 enemy aircraft, sharing credit for 12 with other pilots. He claimed an additional 6 airplanes destroyed.
Lieutenant de Romanet was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with three étoiles en vermeil (silver gilt) stars and 10 palmes.
Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet was killed 23 September 1921, when the fabric covering of his Lumière-De Monge 5.1 airplane’s wings was torn away and the airplane crashed.
14–15 October 1927: Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix flew a Breguet XIX GR, serial number 1685, across the South Atlantic Ocean from Saint-Louis, Senegal, to Port Natal, Brazil.
This was the first non-stop South Atlantic crossing by an airplane. The 2,100-mile (3,380 kilometer) flight took just over 18 hours.
The two aviators were on an around-the-world flight that began 10 October 1927 at Paris, France, and would be completed 14 April 1928, after traveling 34,418 miles (57,000 kilometers).
Costes had been a test pilot for Breguet since 1925. He served as a fighter pilot during World War I and was credited with six aerial victories. He had been appointed Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms, and the Médaille militaire.
Following the around-the-world flight, the Congress of the United States, by special act, awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In 1929, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded him its Gold Air Medal, and the International League of Aviators awarded him the Harmon Trophy “for the most outstanding international achievement in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”
Capitain de Corvette Joseph Le Brix was a French naval officer. He had trained as a navigator, aerial observer and pilot. For his service in the Second Moroccan War, he was appointed to the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre. Like Costes, Le Brix was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the U.S. Congress.
The Breguet XIX GR (“GR” stands for Grand Raid) had been named Nungesser-Coli in honor of the two pilots who disappeared while attempting a crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the White Bird, 8 May 1927. It was developed from the Type XIX light bomber and reconnaissance airplane, which entered production in 1924. A single-engine, two-place biplane with tandem controls, it was primarily constructed of aluminum tubing, covered with sheet aluminum and fabric. The biplane was a “sesquiplane,” meaning that the lower of the two wings was significantly smaller than the upper. Approximately 2,400 Breguet XIXs were built.
No. 1685 was a special long-distance variant, with a 2,900–3,000 liter fuel capacity (766–792 gallons). It was further modified to add 1 meter to the standard 14.83 meter (48 feet, 7.9 inches) wingspan, and the maximum fuel load was increased to 3,500 liters (925 gallons).
The original 590 horsepower Hispano-Suiza 12Hb engine was replaced with a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 12Lb. This was a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403-liter (1,916.33-cubic-inch-displacement) overhead valve 60° V-12 engine, with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.2:1. The 12Lb produced 630 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., burning 85 octane gasoline. The engine was 1.850 meters (6 feet, 0.8 inches) long, 0.750 meters (2 feet, 5.5 inches) wide and 1.020 meters (3 feet, 4.2 inches) high. It weighed 440 kilograms (970 pounds).
The Breguet XIX had a speed of 214 kilometers per hour (133 miles per hour). Its service ceiling was 7,200 meters (23,620 feet).
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.