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Edwards Air Force Base celebrates 75 years of Supersonic Flight

  • Published
  • By James A. Tucker
  • 412th Test Wing History Office

75 years to the day after the Bell X-1 proved that the Sound Barrier was only an engineering challenge, the 412th Test Wing hosted a ceremony to honor the contributions of the team behind that remarkable aircraft.  The small team of engineers, pilots, and maintenance personnel came to the Mojave Desert to overcome the so-called Sound Barrier in 1947.  On the ninth powered flight, the Bell X-1 surpassed the speed of sound (Mach 1) in level, controlled flight.  The ceremony served to celebrate that accomplishment and mark the beginning of the Edwards Air Force Base STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Expo, Open House, and Air Show that ran over the weekend.

With the families of several team members in the audience, Brigadier General Matthew Higer, Commander of the 412th Test Wing, renamed the High Altitude Supersonic Corridor to the Bell X-1 Supersonic Corridor, saying he did so “in honor and in memory of the team of Big-A  Airmen, whose collective individual contributions coalesced into something much more powerful than they could have ever imagined.” 

The teamwork of those individuals was a recurring theme of the ceremony.  Robert Cabana, the Associate Administrator of NASA, pointed out that “Test is a team sport” and noted that NACA (NASA’s predecessor) had sent personnel to the Mojave Desert to participate in the X-1 program.  NACA was a partner in the project since its beginning.  Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall noted in a recorded message played at the ceremony that the supersonic flight on October 14th, 1947 marked the result of “years of effort by a committed team building on the efforts of those before them.”

The other major theme of the ceremony was the continued importance of the spirit that the X-1 team demonstrated.  General C.Q. Brown, Jr., the Air Force Chief of Staff, spoke of the “Spirit that for 75 years has led to building and sustaining Air Force capabilities that dominate the skies.” He encouraged those listening to embrace the teamwork and drive to accelerate technological advancement and protect the nation’s populace and interests. 

General Higer called on the audience to consider what STEM challenges face the country today and how they can contribute to meeting them.  Mr. Cabana discussed a number of ongoing NASA research efforts that could pave the way for significant improvements to both military and civilian aviation.  Secretary Kendall noted how appropriate it was that the ceremony mark the beginning of the largest STEM Expo in Air Force history.  The event sought to inspire thousands of young Americans to pursue educations and careers in STEM fields.

Less than one month after the Air Force stood up as an independent service, a team of Airmen proved the sound barrier was not impenetrable.  Their success marked the beginning of a new age of aviation that would break Machs 2 through 6 above Edwards Air Force base over the next 15 years through an ongoing partnership among the Air Force, NASA, and many contractors. 

Shortly after the first sonic boom in the renamed Bell X-1 Supersonic Corridor sounded above Edwards, thousands of young students got the chance to see that the innovative spirit of pioneers like Charles Yeager, Jack Ridley, Robert Cardenas, and Jack Russell still fill the remote corner of the Mojave Desert where they left their mark on history. 

If you would like to watch the full 75th Anniversary of Supersonic Flight ceremony, go here.