What was the first manned supersonic aircraft that could take off under its own power?

My google-fu has apparently left me for the day. The question is the title.

The Convair XF-92A briefly exceeded the sound barrier with Chuck Yeager at the controls on the 13th of October, 1949.

Thank you. I’d read that article, but with no mention of how it got into the air, or whether it was the first supersonic autonomous aircraft, I wasn’t sure. I suppose since the article doesn’t mention its being dropped from a B-52 or the like, that it probably wasn’t.

According to the article, that was in a dive. I assume the OP is looking for level flight…

The Wikipedia article for the Republic XF-91 Thunderceptor claims (without a cite) that it was the first fighter to go supersonic in level flight in December 1951.

I’m thinking the Republic XF-91 Thunderceptor in 1949.

Dang… ninjaed.

Actually that article specifies that it was the first American fighter to exceed the sound barrier in level flight. Its almost certainly the case that it was the first fighter to do so of any nation but other countries had pretty advanced fighter programs at the time.

My google-fu is also failing me, so can it be confirmed that it was the first plane to do so, full-stop. Or period, because its an American plane. :wink:

Wiki says a British pilot “probably” took a DeHaviland DH-108 supersonic in 1948, but a) the speed wasn’t measured accurately and b) it was in a shallow dive.

The Wikipedia entry on the Bell X-1 says that it was capable of taking off on its own, but only did it once. It did not say if that flight was supersonic, but since it only went to 27,000 feet I would guess not.

There were also reports of German ME-262’s during World War 2 that broke the sound barrier in sharp dives but again speeds weren’t measured accurately back then.


It would be interesting to know who was the first person to go supersonic period, but that’s probably lost to history and if it was in combat as you suggest they may not have even realised it.

Of course there’s also the additional factor of who went supersonic and lived to tell the tale.

Another “maybe, but cannot prove it”:

The Wiki article mentions a DC-8 breaking the sound barrier. Does anyone know how that happened? I would think a DC-8 would fall apart at Mach 1.

Here’s a pretty comprehensive article about the early attempts to break the sound barrier.

The author says that Americans first noticed transonic effects in the 1930’s with the P-36 and P-40 fighters. He makes a pretty convincing argument that a piston engine airplane can’t break the sound barrier because the propeller creates too much drag at those speeds (plus the fact that the WW2 era fighters tended to break apart when pushed that far.)

The F-86 was the first U.S. jet that could go supersonic (in a dive) but it’s unlikely anyone tried to push it that hard (except maybe for Welch) before Yeager set his record.

I can’t find much information about what the Soviets were doing at that time. Supposedly the Mig-15 was powerful enough to break the sound barrier (again, in a dive) but wasn’t structurally sound enough to do it safely. I’ll bet someone tried it, but didn’t live to talk about it.

Those are some weird-ass wings.

F-86’s exceeded Mach 1 in dives as an evasion tactic v MiG-15’s in Korea. Because they (F-86E/F particularly) could and the MiG-15 could not. Even though the MiG-15 had more thrust per weight in level flight it had more drag near the Mach besides serious deteriorating handling. A MiG-15 could climb away from an F-86 in most circumstances, but an F-86 could dive away from a MiG-15 in most circumstances. That’s confirmed by MiG combat pilot accounts, as well as…Chuck Yeager, he was the test pilot detailed to fly the MiG-15 brought by NK defector No Kum-sok just after the Korean armistice.

Here’s a Skeptoid article all about it

One of the best known claims to the sound barrier comes from German WWII fighter pilot Hans Guido Mutke, flying perhaps the most devastating fighter of the war, the Messerschmitt Me-262. The 262 was the first true operational jet powered fighter plane in the world, sporting twin BMW 003 turbojet engines mounted below the swept wings. Although the 262 entered the war too late to have any real impact, it boasted a 5:1 kill ratio against allied fighters. Mutke was cruising at 36,000 feet when he began a steep dive under full power. With his airspeed indicator pegged at its limit of 1,100 kph (just over the speed of sound, but remember the airspeed indicator problem), Mutke reported severe buffeting and loss of control. Suddenly the buffeting stopped and he regained control, with the airspeed indicator still pegged; and it’s this that could indicate he had broken the sound barrier. Unfortunately his engines flamed out, not being designed for supersonic speeds, and he slowed, and the severe buffeting returned. Finally his speed dropped enough that he regained control again and was able to restart his engines. He returned to base, and it was found that his aircraft had lost many rivets, and its wings had become so distorted that the plane had to be scrapped.

Mutke never understood what had happened until Chuck Yeager’s flight was declassified and the supersonic flight profile became known: Severe buffeting while approaching Mach 1, then the shaking stops above Mach 1, and then resumes upon deceleration below Mach 1. But unfortunately for Mutke, there was not, and could not have been, any independent verification of his speed or of the period of smooth supersonic flight. Nobody denies the damage done to his plane during the buffeting period, but supersonic flight was not necessary for this to happen.

The designer of the Me-262, Willy Messerschmitt, always stated emphatically that the 262 was incapable of supersonic flight. In flight tests, he found that at Mach 0.86, the 262 experienced Mach tuck: It lost control and assumed a nose-down attitude that could not be corrected by the pilot, and throttling down was the only way to resume control. The 262 only had conventional elevators on the trailing edge of its tailplane, like all aircraft of the day, so these would have shock stalled and not been able to correct the Mach tuck. But the 262 also had an additional feature: The tailplane was actually all-moving for trim purposes. This was a separate electrically operated control, and it was normally used to keep the plane level as its fuel supply was consumed. Mutke reported that he actually employed this all-moving trim control in order to get out of the nose-down state, a technique which may not have been considered in Messerschmitt’s own tests. Mutke’s report was given additional credibility in 1999, when computer modeling and scale model wind tunnel testing conducted at Munich Technical University found that the 262 was capable of reaching, and passing, Mach 1.*

If I could be allowed to hijack my own thread, what is so special, aerodynamically, about the speed of sound anyway? That is, why does it happen to be that certain aerodynamic forces acting on an airframe begin to have certain effects as airspeed approaches the speed of sound and then disappear above it? Why not at 212 mph? Or 1,096 mph?

I don’t know the answer, but I would guess it has something to do with this:

Sound waves can have an effect on things (singer breaking glass with voice, sonic booms breaking window, LRADs, etc). As you approach “the sound barrier”, a bunch of sound waves (produced by the aircraft) pile up in front of you, and you’ve got to push through them to achieve supersonic flight (see #2 and #3 in this image).

When you walk or drive, how does the air know to move out of your way? Because your movement creates slightly higher pressure in front of you, which propagates ahead of you. This pushes air out of your way. But how fast does that high pressure propagate ahead of you? At the speed of sound, because that’s what sound is - a pressure wave. So if you move faster than the speed of sound, the air in front of you doesn’t know you are coming, and therefore can’t move out of the way. Air is no longer acting as a fluid - it’s more like a cloud of particles, each particle stays there until you slam into it.