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Unfamous Aviation Seconds

We all know the planes and pilots that were first to do something monumental. But do you know who the second ones to those same achievements were? Neither did we. But their stories, when we can dig them up, are very cool.

The Douglas Skyrocket is the second supersonic plane model. Photo courtesy of NASA.
The Douglas Skyrocket is the second supersonic plane model. Photo courtesy of NASA.

We live in a country and a world that attaches big bonuses to finishing first, and that includes record-setting feats. In baseball, Babe Ruth’s name is famous. And if you’re a fan, and maybe even if you aren’t, you might know that Ruth was, in 1927, the first player to hit 60 home runs in a season. Did you also know that Ruth was also the first in the modern era of Major League Baseball history to reach the milestones of 30, 40 and 50 home runs in a season? But who was second? Off the top of my head, I know that Roger Maris, also a New York Yankee at the time, was the second to hit at least 60, in 1961. The other seconds? I’d have to look them up and likely wouldn’t recognize the names once I found them.

As far as aviation milestones are concerned, it’s pretty much the same deal. Chuck Yeager was first to bust the sound barrier (aka Mach 1), but who was second? And what was the second supersonic plane? Chances are you don’t know—we didn’t. Even more than that, it’s often really hard to find out who those unfamous seconds were. So, here, we salute those who came in second in the race to immortality.

5. Second pilot to bust the sound barrier

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5. Second pilot to bust the sound barrier

If you believe the official tale that Chuck Yeager was the first to break the speed of sound, which is very likely but not certain, then who came next? Yeager did. Again and again and again. The second person to achieve supersonic flight was James Thomas Fitzgerald Jr., who was also flying the X-1. You’ve likely never heard of him. Fitzgerald was killed in a landing accident of a T-33, a relatively tame jet trainer.

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