Sound Barrier: The Men

Although Chuck Yeager is the most well known person involved with the record breaking attempt, there were other key members of the team that made this possible. 

The Mach 1 Team included (from left) Ed Swindell, Bob Hoover, Bob Cardenas, Chuck Yeager, Dick Frost and Jack Ridley. .

Colonel Albert G. Boyd:

Chief of Flight Test Division (Air Materiel Command) at Wright-Patterson AFB, Commander USAF Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB.  Often referred to as “Father of USAF Test Pilots”.  Boyd selected Captain “Chuck” Yeager to replace Bell test pilot “Slick” Goodlin when the USAF took over the Bell X-1 project.  

Albert Boyd in a Lockheed P-80R.

“It was Boyd’s decision entirely, but life is never that simple in a decision of this magnitude.  His superiors could easily second guess him if something went wrong, and wonder why he chose the most junior test pilot available for the most important test project.  Boyd had seen Yeager fly in air shows, had watched him carefully when Chuck was maintenance officer during a test flight session at Muroc, and was tremendously impressed. Picking Chuck was the right decision, but it was also courageous because it was unorthodox.” (13) Quote from Boyd’s boss Major General Ascani

Captain Jack Ridley:

Ridley was picked as project engineer by Col. Boyd and assigned to the X-1 project team.  Ridley graduated from the Air Force Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology with a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering.  He was responsible for practical application of the design principles for supersonic flight and served as liaison between Bell engineers and the project team.  

Chuck Yeager, Jack Ridley and Glennis.

Ever the practical engineer he is noted by Chuck Yeager for coming with with the broom handle idea that allowed Yeager to use it as a lever to close and lock in the place the hatch on the X-1 cockpit using his left arm when he was unable to use his right arm due to a horse riding accident the night before that broke a rib.

Major Robert Cardenas:

Piloted the B-29 bomber used as the mother ship to air launch the X-1.  He was the most experienced multi-engine test pilot and eventually was named the officer in charge of the Flight Test Division at Muroc (later Edwards) Army Air Field.  

General Cardenas Oral History Part 1.  Here is part 2 and part 3.

A career Air Force officer, he retired as a Brigadier General to San Diego, CA where he also served as a friend to the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

Lieutenant R. A. “Bob” Hoover:

Selected as the back-up pilot on the X-1 project and flew the chase plane for most of the X-1 flights.  General James Doolittle called him “the greatest stick-and-rudder pilot who ever lived”, Yeager just called him “pard”.  His flying exploits are legendary as a WWII pilot, prisoner of war, test pilot and aerobatic pilot.  For years he performed his flying magic in front of the crowds at the Reno Air Races in Reno, NV in a P-51, F-86 and Aero Commander Shrike, business class twin.  I recommend you read his book: Forever Flying, an autobiography with Mark Shaw, Pocket Books, 1996.

"Come Fly With Me" showing off Bob Hoover's piloting skill.

Captain Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager:

The first man to break the sound barrier in controlled level flight on October 14, 1947 at Muroc Army Air Base near Mojave, CA. Regarded as the world’s most famous test pilot, his Air Force career spanned 34 years.  

Yeager's International Air & Space Hall of Fame video.

He was a multiple ace in WWII, shot down five enemy aircraft in one day, escaped capture after being shot down over France, assigned to the Flight Test Center at Wright-Patterson Air Base after the war, served in Europe and Southeast Asia, retired a Brigadier General in 1975.  

Jack Valentine Woolams:

Bell Aircraft corporate test pilot.  He flew all the non-powered X-1 flights at Pinecastle Army Airfield in Orlando, FL. Was killed prior to the Thompson Trophy Air Race in 1946 testing a modified Bell P-39 Cobra I.  

Jack Woolams in 1943 after setting the altitude record in a Bell P-59.

He likely would have also continued with the X-1 test program when it moved to Muroc Army Airfield to test powered flight and may have taken it through the sound barrier.

Chalmers “Slick” Goodlin:

Became a footnote in history since he was the Bell corporate test pilot who took over the program replacing Woolams after his death.  His contract was to test the X-1 up to .8 Mach and he conducted 20 powered flights.  Then he attempted to renegotiate his contract and demanded $150,000 (over $1.9 million today) to go beyond Mach 1.  

Bell test pilot Chalmers H. "Slick" Goodlin and crew chief Jack Russell confer alongside the Bell XS-1 Number 2, 46-063 at Muroc during Bell XS-1 demonstration flights in the Spring of 1947, by Jean-Luc Beghin.

During these contract negotiations all flying of the X-1 stopped and the Air Force finally lost patience with Bell Aircraft and took over the program thus giving Air Force test pilots the chance to break the sound barrier.  In effect Goodlin lost the chance to become the man who broke the sound barrier.  Yeager did it for Captain’s pay.

Next page in this exhibit.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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