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.
An estimated 5,000 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.
12 October 1944: During World War II, First Lieutenant Charles Elwood Yeager, Air Corps, United States Army, was a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot assigned to the 363d Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, stationed at RAF Leiston (USAAF Station 373), near the village of Theberton, Suffolk, England.
Recently promoted from the warrant rank of Flight Officer, Lieutenant Yeager—as one of the most experienced pilots in the group— was leading the 357th on a bomber escort mission against Bremen, Germany. While the Group’s 362nd and 364th Fighter Squadrons remained with the B-24 bombers, Yeager and the 363d patrolled 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers) ahead.
At 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) over Steinhuder Meer, northwest of Hanover, Yeager sighted a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters (also called the Me 109). He was soon able to count 22. Yeager and his squadron of 16 Mustangs circled and attacked out of the sun.
As Chuck Yeager maneuvered his P-51D Mustang, named Glamorous Glenn II, to fire at a trailing Bf 109, the German fighter suddenly turned left and collided with his wingman. Both pilots bailed out of their fighters and the two Bf 109s went down.
“It was almost comic, scoring two quick victories without firing a shot. . . By now, all the airplanes in the sky had dropped their wing tanks and were spinning and diving in a wild, wide-open dogfight. I blew up a 109 from six hundred yards—my third victory—when I turned to see another angling in behind me. Man I pulled back the throttle so damned hard I nearly stalled, rolled up and over, came in behind and under him, kicking right rudder and simultaneously firing. I was directly underneath the guy, less than fifty feet, and I opened up that 109 as if it were a can of Spam. That made four. A moment later, I waxed a guy’s fanny in a steep dive; I pulled up at about 1,000 feet; he went straight into the ground.“
— Yeager, An Autobiography, by Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Page 57.
Lieutenant Yeager’s official report of the air battle reads (in part):
“H. Five Me. 109s destroyed
“I. I was leading the Group with Cement Squadron and was roving out to the right of the first box of bombers. I was over STEINHUDER LAKE when 22 Me. 109s crossed in front of my Squadron from 11:00 O’Clock to 1:00 O’Clock. I was coming out of the sun and they were about 1½ miles away at the same level of 25,000 feet. I fell in behind the enemy formation and followed them for about 3 minutes, climbing to 30,000 feet. I still had my wing tanks and had close up to around 1,000 yards, coming within firing range and positioning the Squadron behind the entire enemy formation. Two of the Me. 109s were dodging over to the right. One slowed up and before I could start firing, rolled over and bailed out. The other Me. 109, flying his wing, bailed out immediately after as I was ready to line him in my sights. I was the closest to the tail-end of the enemy formation and no one, but myself was in shooting range and no one was firing. I dropped my tanks and then closed up to the last Jerry and opened fire from 600 yards, using the K-14 sight. I observed strikes all over the ship, particularly heavy in the cockpit. He skidded off to the left. I was closing up on another Me. 109 so I did not follow him down. Lt. STERN, flying in Blue Flight reports this E/A on fire as it passed him and went into a spin. I closed up on the next Me. 109 to 100 yards, skidded to the right and took a deflection shot of about 10°. I gave about a 2 second burst and the whole fuselage split open and blew up after we passed. Another Me. 109 to the right had cut his throttle and was trying to get behind. I broke to the right and quickly rolled to the left on his tail. He started pulling it in and I was pulling 6″G”. I got a lead from around 300 yards and gave him a short burst. There were hits on wings and tail section He snapped to the right 3 times and bailed out when he quit snapping at around 18,000 feet. I did not blackout during this engagement due to the efficiency of the “G” suit. Even though I was skidding I hit the second Me. 109 by keeping the bead and range on the E/A. To my estimation the K-14 sight is the biggest improvement to combat equipment for Fighters up to this date. The Me. 109s appeared to have a type of bubble canopy and had purple noses and were a mousey brown all over. I claim five Me 109s destroyed.
“J. Ammunition Expended: 587 rounds .50 cal MG.
“Charles E. Yeager, 1st Lt, AC.”
Lieutenant Yeager had destroyed five enemy fighters during a single battle. He became “an Ace in one day” and was awarded the Silver Star. Of the twenty-two Me 109s, the 363rd had destroyed eight without losing a single Mustang.
Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II, flown by another pilot, was destroyed six days later when it crashed in bad weather.
The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation World War II fighter. It was a single-seat, single-engine fighter, initially designed for the Royal Air Force. The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).
The P-51D was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with Military Power ratings of 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m with 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.
The P-51D with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).
The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).
With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).
The P-51D was armed with six electrically-heated Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the other four guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary, and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.
A total of 8,156 P-51Ds were produced by North American at Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas, and another 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Melbourne, Australia.
The North American Aviation P-51D Mustang remained in service with the United States Air Force until 27 January 1957, when the last aircraft were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia National Guard.