Toward the end of World War II, the world turned its attention to developing the turbojet engine. The Germans were the first to get an operational fighter jet, the Messerschmitt ME 262, into the war followed shortly by the British Royal Air Force. Neither entered service soon enough to change the outcome of the war.
Following WWII, countries continued their testing and development of jet engine technology. As aircraft became faster and faster, scientists needed to study the effects of speed, acceleration, deceleration, ejection, and other forces that the human body can expect to endure during high-speed flight. The data acquired from testing helped lead the United States into the jet age and America’s first successful turbojet aircraft, the P-80 (F-80) Shooting Star.
As the United States and Russia faced off in the Cold War, they both raced to be first into space. Rockets would be needed to escape the earth’s atmosphere. Like the testing needed for jet engine effects on the human body, rocket technology also needed to be examined before humans were strapped onto them. To control the early testing the military would need to fire rocket systems without losing control of the test platform. To accomplish this mission they would choose to build a rail system with an attached rocket sled.
Rocket technology was evaluated on tested tracks like the Holloman High-Speed Test Track in New Mexico. This aerospace ground test facility is located at Holloman Air Force Base and is adjacent to the White Sands Missile Range. This 10-mile long test track, first developed in 1947, provides the perfect platform to test rocket systems, gain data, and solve problems that could not be completed by other ground means. An important factor of using a free-floating sled secured to a long test track, the test items could be recovered after testing for post-run analysis. Some of the many tests included developing pilot-less aircraft, guided missiles, crew escape systems, and munitions dispensers from a high-speed moving platform. Even Colonel John Stapp’s study on the effects of acceleration and deceleration forces on humans was tested at Holloman and the data developed has led to crash survivability and even seat belts in automobiles. For this, Stapp strapped himself onto the rocket sled, propelled it down the rail system reaching a speed of 632 miles per hour, and experienced 46.2 G force. He set the world land speed record with this pass.
Today, the high-speed rail track is still in use. It is still used to test technology like the latest rocket-propelled systems and ejections seats fired with from the fast-moving sleds. The test track is even utilized for testing a hypersonic sled that reaches speeds of 6,599 mph. How fast is that to the naked eye? Watch the video below to see it pass by at Mach 8.6.