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Machine Design

Keeping competitors at bay, 1944 style

An axiom of modern business is that generating a steady stream of innovative designs is one way to keep competitors off balance and constantly reacting.

Chuck Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier in the rocket-powered Bell X-1. A B-2 sits in the background.

Speaking at a recent Solid Edge Users meeting, Chuck Yeager, ( former USAF General and first man to break the sound barrier, related how true that axiom was, even in the closing months of World War II.

Aircraft of the day, Mustangs and Messershmitts, could pull 5 gs in tight maneuvers. "That would make the blood column in a pilot so heavy, his heart couldn't pump enough to his head," says Yeager. "When that happened, especially in a dogfight, peripheral vision would diminish and you just had enough wherewithal to stay flying." To combat the effect, the Royal Canadian Air Force developed a water-filled suit that would compress a pilot's body from the chest down to keep blood pressure up. Although the suit worked, says Yeager, it would balloon around the feet making pedal movements tricky. A second variation, however, used air pressure, worked better, and evolved with minor variations into the pressure suits worn by fighter pilots today.

"The P-51 Mustang was innovative because it had the range and endurance beyond all other fighters," notes Yeager. The plane carried fuel for 8-hr missions, enough to get from England to Germany and back. Most other fighter aircraft could only stay aloft 4 hr.

Another useful invention was a gun sight that automatically led the target in turns, making hits on enemy aircraft more certain, even for novice pilots. "The Germans didn't have any of these advantages," says Yeager. The steady stream of innovations from the aircraft industry was so overwhelming that when the Germans' made their first jet-powered fighter operational, it was too little too late.

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