This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet?


October 14, 1947: Yeager Breaks Sound Barrier

U.S. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager becomes the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. Yeager was among several volunteers chosen to test-fly the experimental X-1 rocket plane, built by the Bell Aircraft Company to explore the possibility of supersonic flight.

X-1 in flight

X-1 in flight

For years, many aviators believed that man was not meant to fly faster than the speed of sound. All that changed on October 14, 1947, when Yeager flew the X-1 over Rogers Dry Lake in Southern California. The X-1 was lifted to an altitude of 25,000 feet by a B-29 aircraft and then released through the bomb bay, rocketing to 40,000 feet and exceeding 662 miles per hour (the sound barrier at that altitude).


The rocket plane, Yeager nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis” (for his wife), was designed with thin, unswept wings and a streamlined fuselage modeled after a .50-caliber bullet.


50 cal. bullet

50 cal. bullet

The X-1 was in principle a “bullet with wings”, its shape closely resembling a Browning .50-caliber machine gun bullet, known to be stable in supersonic flight. The pattern shape was followed to the point of seating its pilot behind a sloped, framed window inside a confined cockpit in the nose . . . with no ejection seat.




Yeager continued to serve as a test pilot, and in 1953 he flew 1,650 miles per hour in an X-1A rocket plane. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1975 with the rank of brigadier general.


The speed of sound is 768 mph or a mile in five seconds. Or 662 mph at 40,000 ft.

Bullets from rifles and handguns can travel up to several thousand feet per second, so just as an example, a bullet traveling at 2000 FPS is traveling 1467.81 MPH.

Although there are huge variables, pistol bullets travel pretty fast;  at about 900 MPH, depending on the gun. For instance, a 9MM bullet travels at about 820 MPH. A rifle bullet travels faster, at 400 to 3,300 miles per hour depending on the rife. A Winchester .270 Rifle Bullet travels about 1,924 miles per hour. But that’s not fast enough to shoot down the fastest jet, the SR-71 Blackbird, which travels at 2,193 mph!

SR-&1 Blackbird

SR-&1 Blackbird



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