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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac: Supersonic Bear

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about the first supersonic bear. Forty years ago, a bear named Yogi was launched from a supersonic plane to test the effects of high-speed stress.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: John Williams, "Lost in Space," TELEVISION'S GREATEST HITS (TVT - 1986)]

CURWOOD: On March 21, 1962, it wasn't raining cats and dogs, but a bear did fall from the sky. Thirty-five thousand feet above Edwards Air Force Base, a California bear named Yogi became the first living animal ejected from an aircraft flying at supersonic speeds. When Yogi was launched into aviation history, the B-58 bomber was traveling at 870 miles per hour, faster than the speed of sound. Seven minutes and 49 seconds later, the bear parachuted to the ground without a scratch. The Air Force was testing a new escape capsule designed to protect crewmembers who have to bail out of airplanes at high speeds. The researchers picked the bear for the test because a bear weights about as much as a human. At high altitudes and speeds, wind and extreme tumbling could make ejection dangerous. So scientists strapped Yogi into a pressurized capsule with oxygen and shock absorbers to cushion the landing. For the record, Yogi wasn't the only bear to break the sound barrier. About two weeks after his historic jump, Yogi was one-upped by a 125-pound bruin named Big John. The plane carrying Big John was flying at an altitude of 45,000 feet at more than 1,000 miles per hour when Big John punched out. Ten minutes later, he too landed safely. Both bears were sedated for their supersonic trips and snoozed through their 15 minutes of fame. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.




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