The Man Who Broke the ‘Sound Barrier’…George Welch



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 experimental Bell 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.


F-100 Super Sabre: Rear-F-86D “Dog Sabre” All-weather Variant

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.*f100-maw.JPG

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.


Air Museum of California Painting of Brig. Gen. (Ret.) “Chuck” Yeager, 2nd Supersonic Pilot

Portrait of George Welch via Wikipedia: all other images by

*Probably. From famously secretive Russia, the MiG 19 (NATO reporting name Farmer) is another possibility, we’ll never know.




Unless noted, all text/images produced by Noncommercial use free with attribution.



2 thoughts on “The Man Who Broke the ‘Sound Barrier’…George Welch

    • Thanks for the comment. I might have started blogging to write that post. I got tired of the ‘controversial’ and famously litigious Gen. Yeager constantly being cited as ‘breaking the sound barrier’ by being the first to ‘fly faster than the speed of sound’, forgetting to add…’in level flight’.
      I have no evidence that the F-86’s test pilot actually put the plane in a shallow dive to make sonic booms except reports of booms in the desert at that time, but it was routinely done by Air Force service pilots later on so it stands to reason to was done by Welch first.
      My only question would be the timing, since per Wikipedia “On October 14, 1947, less than a month after the US Air Force became a separate service, Yeager broke the sound barrier while flying X-1-1 (serial #46-062).” I’d love to see the page of Welch’s logbook on the day he did it.
      This is not to denigrate Gen. Yeager’s feat unduly, just to point out that apparently history has overlooked Welch’s place in it. Test pilot work can be deadly, the F-106 almost killed Yeager and the F-100 did kill Welch, nobody can question their bravery.
      Thanks again for the comment. Love your C-121 Lockheed Connie work.

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