Panorama of the Mountains noted the 60th anniversary of the first known faster-than-sound flight by a human — October 14, 1947. Test pilot and all-around good guy Chuck Yeager did it.
This is a great post-World War II, Cold War story of technology that should pique interest in the time and the events for many students. For a 90 minute class, a solid lesson plan could be developed around the science and technology of the flight (yes, even in history — this is key stuff in the development of economics, too). The physics of sound, a brief history of flight and aircraft, the reasons for post-war development of such technologies, the political situation: There are a dozen hooks to get into the topic. Fair use would cover showing a clip from “The Right Stuff” about the flight, and there are some dramatic clips there. (The movie is 3 hours and 13 minutes; great stuff in a format too long for classroom use. Is there any possibility your kids would read the Tom Wolfe book?)
When will someone – the Air Force? NASA? an aircraft company? — put together a DVD with authorized film clips from the newsreels and the movie, and suggested warm ups and quiz questions?
Back in the bad old days one of my elementary school teachers did an entire morning on the speed of sound, aircraft engineering, and the history of faster-than-sound flight. I learned the accurate way to measure the distance to lightning by counting seconds to the thunder (it’s about a mile for every 5 seconds, not a mile for every second, as our school-yard lore had it).
This program, to fly at the speed of sound, at what is now Edwards Air Force Base changed the way science of flight is done in the U.S. Yeager led the group of Air Force pilots who proved that military pilots could do the testing of aircraft; the project proved the value of conducting research with experimental aircraft on military time. The methods developed for testing, evaluating, redesigning and retesting are still used today. The drive for safety for the pilots also grew out of these early efforts at supersonic flight.
Yeager’s flight came when technology was cool, not just for the virtual reality role playing games (RPGs), which were still decades in the future, but because it was new, interesting, and it opened a world of possibilities. We all wanted to fly airplanes, especially small, fast airplanes. Read the rest of this entry »