Test pilot and retired Army Air Forces Major George Welch dove a prototype North American F-86 Sabre jet past Mach 1 two weeks before the official “in level flight” record of the X-1.
Sonic booms were heard from the transonic fighter’s tests in several places in the desert test range for some time.
But Welch’s speed record flight was not an official attempt and was achieved in a dive.
The military and governmental authorities who backed the Bell X-1 experimental program agreed there was no printable story about the new and secret military fighter and its amazing capabilities.
Especially when flown by a hotshot civilian pilot on a tear.
In addition, the X-1’s successful supersonic pilot-since 14 October 1947, was Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager, a famous WWII hero and Ace, with country boy charm and good old boy hunting and fishing connections.
Yeager’s long career also helped ensure his fame while Welch’s early death made him forgotten.
George Welch died in 1954 age 36, while testing the Sabre jet’s descendant the F-100 Super Sabre, first of the ‘Century Series’ planes supersonic capable “in level flight”, and first Mach 1 aircraft in operational service.*
Gen. Yeager and all the original astronauts too were lucky to escape alive from the test pilot job.
Later in his career Gen. Yeager flew the F-100D extensively, the plane George Welch died testing.
Portrait of George Welch via Wikipedia: all other images by todgermanica.com
*Probably. From famously secretive Russia, the MiG 19 (NATO reporting name Farmer) is another possibility, we’ll never know.
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