I Was There! - I Power-Dived Faster Than Sound Can Travel

The War Illustrated, Volume 7, No. 162, Page 221, September 3, 1943.

The fastest man alive, Lieut.-Col. C. S. Hough, of Michigan, Technical Director of the 8th Fighter Command, tells how he power-dived vertically at 780 m.p.h. From more than eight miles above the English countryside to test a fighting machine. His story appears here by arrangement with The Daily Mail.

I guess I shall remember more than anything else the wonderful experience of seeing from that height of 43,000 ft. practically the whole of England spread out under me on a perfect English day. I stayed up there for a little while to look around. I saw right across to the Bristol Channel on one side and away to the Wash on the other. I saw the Mersey gleaming, and the brighter Bristol Channel.

I took a glance at the North Sea and then at the English Channel and away across to Calais and the Cherbourg peninsula. Gee! What a thrill it was to see the whole of one country at ones! Well, then I had to get along, for my cabin wasn't supercharged for climbing so high, and I wasn't getting enough oxygen. It was pretty cold up there too – 60 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit), and all the heat I got was from the twin engines of my Lightning plane. So it was time I really got moving.

I didn't think about the plunge – I just put her nose down and went for the earth, gradually gaining maximum speed. I suppose it was about five seconds after reaching my ceiling that I started to make the power dive and I was diving for 25 seconds at 1,000 ft. a second. In the middle 15 seconds my hands were of the controls – it was a bit risky, I admit – and I was writing data with my eyes glued to the instruments that told me of my speed and other things. It sure was a thrill when I realized at one point that I was travelling faster than the sound of my engines and faster than the speed of my propellers.

I wasn't conscious of any sensation in particular – only the rather comfortable feeling of going through solid air. There was noise of it like the roaring and rushing of a sea past my cabin and the shrill screaming of the propellers. When I judged that I had reached the limit of possible velocity with the engines full on I thought I would “feather” the propellers to give me even a little more speed.

But as I began to reduce power the nose of the plane started to turn inwards on an outside loop. That cured me pretty quick of any desire to “feather” the propellers. I held on to maximum speed for 10 sec. I had no sensation of speed at all for there was nothing to impress it on my notice. If I had passed anything going down or could have kept my eyes on the earth leaping up to meet me, it would have been different. When I had got to within 18,000 ft. of the ground I guessed it was time to let the old instinct of self-preservation have its way. So I started to flatten out. This was the really exciting part.

I had only 18 sec. to go before reaching the ground, and I had to act quickly and at the same time very carefully. If I had pulled out suddenly I wouldn't have been here to tell the tale. However, I got her out in a nice curve – and that was unpleasant enough. I didn't black out – I just greyed out. Everything went grey, but I didn't for an instant lose consciousness. I felt as if some hefty fellow was sitting tight on my head and pushing me back from the way the plane was going, and when I tried to move my arm it was so heavy I thought I'd need a crane to lift it.

My whole body felt like lead. Now I could see the ground and the neatly divided fields – and all at once I became conscious of speed. After flattening out I did a little climb that eased matters a bit. A few seconds later I landed. How did I feel? Oh, fine. I just breathed a little prayer of thanksgiving and went into the office to write my report.

I undertook the test dive in the ordinary course of my research work. In fact I decided to go up quite suddenly – and only half an hour before. I had my usual breakfast – toast and coffee and a cigarette.

You see, it sort of helps a fighter pilot to known just how much his plane can stand.

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