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Faster than sound

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flashpig | 14:09 Wed 05th Oct 2005 | Film, Media & TV
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I while back I caught a film halfway thorugh about a test pilot flying really fast planes. Faster than sound maybe, but there was a lot of accidents, and the breakthrough came when someone figured out that after a certain speed the controls were somehow reversed so that the previous pilots had nosedived to earth.

I don't know how this works, and to me this sounds like bad science, but apparently it was a true story or based on a true story.

British, I think. Black and white. 1950s-60s.

What was it?

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While not actually "reversing" the controls, the shock wave or more correctly the compressibility wave that occurs when any thing approaches the speed of sound, caused controls to become very difficult to move.  This was noted by the British during the short lived M52 project.  This attempt at passing the sound barrier was initiated in response to the German advances in 1943, but abandoned in 1946 when it was considered to dangerous to proceed.  In fact, the DeHavilland Aircraft Co.'s chief test pilot Geoffery DeHavilland Jr., was killed that same year in an attempt at breaking the existing speed record. It was found during testing, both in England as well as the U.S., that the use of swept wings greatly reduced the effects of the compression wave.  The U.S. tests involved a different approach however. Utilizing the observations that .50 caliber bullets were fairly stable when surpassing the sound barrier, the Bell X-1 was designed in that shape with very small, thin wings and succeeded in breaking the barrier in 1947.  The Dehavilland company was successful the following year with its own design. The rest, as they say, is history...
Further to Clanad, it was also discovered that a plane actually stretches during supersonic flight and that catering for this in the superstructure created less stress and made the plane easier to fly. I have been on concord and they have a guage on the floor of the cockpit that shows the stretch of the fusilage, Concord is 9 inches longer at mach 2 than it is on the tarmac. Regular pilots can tell the speed based on this guage rather than the airspeed indicator.

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Faster than sound

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