Capt. Charles E. Yeager became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound in level flight on October 14, 1947. Here, Yeager stands with the experimental craft he flew, the Bell X-1, nicknamed the Glamorous Glennis after Yeager's wife.

Photograph courtesy U.S. Air Force

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  • On October 14, 1947, U.S. Air Force Capt. (now Gen.) Chuck Yeager became the first human being to fly faster than the speed of sound, 1,236 kilometers per second (768 miles per hour). Yeager flew over Edwards Air Force Base, California, in a specially built plane, the Bell X-1, which had rocket engines and was shaped like a bullet to make it more aerodynamic. Like many experimental aircraft (including prototypes of the space shuttle), the X-1 didn’t “take off” from the ground. It was dropped from a larger plane, a method called a “drop launch.” Yeager landed the plane in a nearby dry lakebed.

    Today, military aircraft regularly fly up to three times faster than the speed of sound, and a supersonic commercial airliner, the Concorde, flew between London, Paris, and New York for more than 30 years.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    aerodynamics Noun

    the study of how air moves.

    aircraft Noun

    vehicle able to travel and operate above the ground.

    commercial Adjective

    having to do with the buying and selling of goods and services.

    engine Noun

    machine that converts energy into power or motion.

    lakebed Noun

    bottom of a lake.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    prototype Noun

    early version or model.

    rocket Noun

    device that moves through the atmosphere by release of expanding gas.

    space shuttle Noun

    vehicle used to transport astronauts and instruments to and from Earth.

    supersonic Adjective

    faster than the speed of sound, 343 meters per second (1,125 feet per second).