by David Baker (former NASA scientist and the Editor of BIS Spaceflight magazine)
Today, modern high performance combat aircraft can easily exceed Mach 2, and some highly refined designs have exceeded Mach 3.
Yet there was a time when even the speed of sound was a barrier to fast aircraft. Even as the jet engine was becoming accepted, just after the end of the Second World War, the development of high-speed flight was in its infancy.
Turning to rocket propulsion, an intrepid band of test pilots pitted skill against danger and deliberately flew into harm's way to test the limits and burst through the so-called sound barrier. From Chuck Yeager's record-breaking flight in October 1947 - when he became the first pilot to exceed Mach 1 - to routine flights to Mach 6 with the X-15 more than 15 years later, this publication tells the story of rocketplanes that paved the way for the supersonic aircraft of today.
But that was not an end, merely a beginning.
Beyond the present, taking the rocketplanes story into the future, Virgin Galactic promises to make everyone a rocketplane passenger and achieve the ultimate thrill of flying in a winged aircraft powered by a rocket motor - beyond the atmosphere to the edge of space itself.