I Was There: When the DC-8 Went Supersonic

The day a Douglas DC-8 busted Mach 1

It takes a village to reach Mach 1.01. The flight and ground crews for the DC-8 supersonic run included flight test engineer Richard H. Edwards, third from left, and pilot Bill Magruder, in white shirt behind sign. (Courtesy Richard H. Edwards)
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BW: So there was a little bit of a wall….

RHE: Yeah, and a little above .96 it went away, and it came back as we slowed down to .96. The thing that impressed me the most was the dark, black sky. I’d never seen anything like that. I’m sure our military pilots are familiar with it. I had mounted some cameras in the middle of the airplane, shooting out each window. I wanted to catch the [F-100 and F-104] chase airplanes out there, but I never saw the chase airplanes in the pictures. But it did show the ailerons flapping up as the shock wave left—I think it was about .97 Mach. They went up about five degrees, I think—both sides, fortunately.

BW: What did it feel like to walk on the ground again after you set down?

RHE: We were all smiles. We weren’t frightened, but we were more or less happy that we had got there. Initially, on all the flight tests we’d shoot for maximum design Mach number on each new design, which was .95 Mach. We’d normally overshoot a little so we’d be sure we would get it, so we got up to .97 quite a few times. And Bill said, “Well, if we can get up to .97, we can get up to 1.01. That’s not so far away.”

BW: You must have felt like you were a part of aviation history, a little like an early astronaut.

RHE: A little bit. [Douglas Aircraft Company president] Jackson McGowen came down and met us at the executive lunch room, the first time I’d ever been in there, and bought us all lunch. So we were kind of pleased with that. And John Londelius, VP of Flight Test, gave us each a $1,000 bonus, so that was rather nice. That was back when a thousand dollars was worth a thousand dollars.

N9604Z was delivered to Canadian Pacific Air Lines, where it served for nearly 19 years. In 1980, it was sold for scrap.

Aviation historian Bill Wasserzieher interviewed Douglas employees for the Douglas White Oaks Trust project, which comprises some 50 oral histories.


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