From the S&S archives: Yeager sees ceramic 'skin' for future planes
Stars and Stripes April 17, 1956
FRANKFURT, April 16 — Supersonic interceptors of the future may well look like a cross between your Aunt Fanny's best Sunday china and a Fourth of July rocket, according to the world's fastest flier.
Lt Col Charles Yeager predicted at a press conference here that ceramic glares will be standard equipment on high-speed military aircraft of the future. Replacing aluminum and other standard metals, which would melt at the high speeds to be reached by planes of the future, china, porcelain or ceramic glazes will be built into the leading edges of wings, tails and other projections which face the heat-creating atmosphere, Yeager indicated.
"Engineers talk about building planes with skin like an alligator — the scales would overlap," Yeager said.
"I'm no aircraft engineer but after you've been in the business a while, a lot of the stuff rubs off."
Rocket power has a great future, Yeager said. As greater propulsive systems are worked out, operational airplanes will employ a vertical takeoff. It will start with fighter aircraft and eventually reach civilian transports, he said.
Yeager, 33, holds the world's speed record for aircraft, having exceeded 1,600 mph in a Bell experimental X1A rocket plane in 1953. He is currently stationed at Hahn Air Base, Germany, as commander of the 417th Fighter-Bomber Sq. where he now flies F86H Sabrejets after 10 years as a test pilot.
Yeager shared the spotlight with Maj Arthur Murray, the 37-yearold pilot who holds the world's altitude record. Soaring more than 90,000 feet in a series of 13 tries, Murray set the mark in the same rocket craft Yeager used to set his speed record. The altitude record was made Aug. 24, 1954.
Murray called steering the experimental rocket plane "like driving a car across a sheet of ice."
"We learned a number of things trying to control the plane," he said. "Above 60,000 feet the sky turns a dark blue — almost like the U.S. Air Force uniform — and the rarefied atmosphere poses problems of control and lift unknown at lower altitudes"
The needle-nosed plane, which was launched from a B29 while in flight, could fly only 4½ minutes on its own rocket fuel supply, Murray said.
To hit his altitude mark, he said, it was a case of aiming the plane up, giving it the throttle and letting it go. Once the fuel supply was exhausted, the plane kept climbing until it ran out of momentum, in the manner of a projectile.
Flying at about twice the speed of sound makes little difference on the physical well-being of a flier, Yeager and Murray agreed.
"The limit of speed a pilot can stand," Yeager said, "depends on just about one thing — refrigeration. As long as you keep him cool, he can take the speed straightaway."
It may be 50 degrees below zero outside, he added, while the temperature in the plane is 120 above or more.