First Manmade Supersonic Object


Most of us are familiar with the historic flight of Chuck Yeager who is credited with first breaking the sound barrier in 1947. The shape of the fuselage on his X-1 research plane had been designed to resemble a .50 caliber bullet since this object was known to exceed Mach 1. Other projectiles, like shells and cannon balls, had also been able to travel faster than the speed of sound for many years. However, it is not known for sure when the earliest projectile exceeded the speed of sound or when guns and cannons might have become powerful enough to accelerate an object to such speeds.

Regardless, another object that has been around far longer than gun-launched projectiles was probably the first manmade object to exceed the speed of sound. Believe it or not, this object is a whip. As the whip's user snaps his wrist back and forth, it sends a wave down the length of the whip that accelerates the tip to very high speeds. This speed may even grow fast enough to exceed the speed of sound, particularly if the whip is relatively long. Whips are also known for the distinctive cracking noise they make as the move through the air. This crackling is actually the result of a miniature sonic boom being created by the tip as it travels faster than Mach 1.

Indiana Jones engaging in supersonic research
Indiana Jones engaging in supersonic research

It is impossible to determine when a whip first broke the sound barrier since this device was invented before the dawn of recorded history. In any event, it is likely that whips have been traveling faster than the speed of sound for at least 5,000 years.
- answer by Joe Yoon, 27 February 2005

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