- Friday, April 25, 2008
Flight Test Commander Colonel Albert Boyd had a dream too – to take the best pilot and the best man supersonic. The good news was that planes were in development and headed his way. The bad news was that the Colonel was unsettled about finding a man in his pilot corps who could match these complex aircraft with equal knowledge of them and translate that knowledge directly into the cockpit during flight.
Test pilot school was not easy. The aeronautics, physics, and mathematics of jet flight were going to be critical for Chuck should he be the one to take jet aircraft supersonic. Flying planes was as natural as breathing but, as smart as Chuck was, this part of school was a battle. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Chuck hooked up with a flight engineer named Jack Ridley who’s gift was explaining complex math and physics. For both Ridley and Yeager it seemed destiny had delivered the right man at the right time. In the coming weeks and months this partnership would prove mission critical.
In August of 1947 eight powered flights were made, each providing new data, and new obstacles. Hurdles included:
- major turbulence – the closer to mach speed, the worse the turbulence;
- shock waves – disruptions on the plane’s control surfaces made operating the plane impossible at .94 mach. Controls suddenly ceased to function on the seventh flight, requiring Yeager to kill power, jettison fuel, and glide back down;
- nose stability - the ability to operate the elevator that controlled the pitch of the nose was lost approaching mach speed, impacting the angle of attack and preventing greater speed.
Prior to the eighth flight, Ridley theorized that they could control the plane near mach speeds using the horizontal stabilizer instead of the elevator to correct their angle of attack. On the eighth flight Chuck tested the concept at .96 mach and his buddy was right. Buoyed by the developments, Colonel Boyd decided they would take the X-1 to .98 mach on the next run. Prospects for supersonic were on the horizon until turbulence of another kind jeopardized the next flight.
On October 12th (two days before the next flight) Chuck and his wife were riding horses. To finish the ride they decided to race the horses back to the barn thinking a gate to the barn was open. Instead, the gate was bolted shut! Chuck’s horse hit the gate almost at full speed and Chuck was launched unwillingly, into near-supersonic flight. The result was two broken ribs just two days before the big day.
This presented unique problems for Captain Yeager. For starters, an X-1 pilot did not enter the cockpit like a traditional fighter jet. He had to enter through a tiny side door. Easy enough. But once inside, the door had to be pulled into place. Ouch! Then the door had to be latched from the inside by pushing a lever forward to lock the cockpit door. Triple-dog ouch! He simply couldn’t do it. He confessed his secret to Ridley, and as they mulled over the dilemma, Ridley had an engineers’ epiphany. Never at a loss at solving complex problems, Ridley fashioned a makeshift handle out of a broomstick. Chuck could use the stick to pull the door closed, push the lever, and lock the cockpit door. Colonel Boyd remained blissfully in the dark.
On the morning of October 14, 1947, Chuck and his broomstick entered the cockpit of the X-1 and lifted off in the B-29 making its way to target elevation for the ninth time. Myriad questions coursed though everyone’s minds as the signal arrived from the B-29 pilot that target elevation had been achieved.
Three. Two. One.
Upon separation, Chuck immediately fired the X-1’s rocket engines and in a matter of seconds, was approaching the point of no return. At .94 mach the plane began to rattle. He engaged the horizontal stabilizer trim switch instead of the elevator (thank you, Ridley), ignited the forth engine, and watched the mach meter as the needle jumped forward off the scale.
Poof! The X-1 sliced through the supersonic barrier on a sheet of glass. Ground operators mistook the historic sonic boom for thunder crashing in the distance. Back in the cockpit, Chuck Yeager decided to fly in in his newly-discovered realm of supersonic flight for 20 glorious seconds before turning off two engines and decelerating back to subsonic speeds.
An invisible barrier was no more. “A poke through Jell-o,” was how Chuck described the historic event.
As I work with men all over the world, they tell me about their battles to break through the inward spiritual barrier of total loyalty to Jesus Christ. Whether it’s soldiers emailing me from Iraq or guys in my own congregation, they all lament disloyalty to their King and are frustrated by their lapses in spiritual loyalty. It eats at them that they cannot seem to break through and enter that “new realm” of spiritual life and loyalty that noble men of God possess in abundance. They are not alone. I believe that millions are coming up short and settling for subsonic existences because they do not have a spiritual Ridley helping them break through to a new level in their relationships with God and people.
My point: no Ridley, no sonic boom for Yeager. No spiritual Ridley in your life, no sonic booms for Christ. The solution? “Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart,” II Tim 2:22. Just like Ridley and Yeager were better together, you and I are better men when we are connected to one or two other men who consistently make us better. The question is: are the men in our lives helping us make breakthroughs? More specifically, the kinds of breakthroughs that fundamentally change the way I live and think going forward.
If you are connected to other men and those relationships are not helping you win new spiritual ground, it’s time to assess those friendships. You may need to connect more deeply, get connected to a brother, or start being more honest about where you need to break down a barrier in your life. If we do this we will start making some new noises with our lives (the good kind). Will it be turbulent? Yes. But the air on the other side is awesome and a lot smoother.
Kenny Luck is the Men's Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. He is also the Founder and President of Every Man Ministries which helps churches worldwide develop and grow healthy men's communities. Please visit www.everymanministries.com for more information.
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