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Aeronautical engineer and test pilot Jack Linwood Ridley was born in Garvin, Oklahoma, on June 16, 1915, to John W. and Sarah Ridley. Educated in the public schools, Jack Ridley attended the University of Oklahoma, participated in R.O.T.C., and received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1939. Serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, he became a pilot in 1942 and attended California Institute of Technology, earning a master's degree in aerospace engineering in 1945. In 1946 he completed Experimental Test Pilot School at Wright Field, Ohio.

Jack Ridley and X1 Team

Ridley's engineering expertise landed him assignments in the B-24, B-32, and B-36 bomber programs and then as project engineer on the Bell X-1 project team, with Capt. Chuck Yeager and Lt. Robert A. Hoover. Yeager often characterized Ridley as the X-1 program's "brain," whose job was to analyze all technical data recorded during test flights. On October 14, 1947, with Ridley in the B-29 mothership that launched the X-1, the test plane broke the sound barrier and ushered aviation into the supersonic age. Ridley received the Commendation Ribbon for meritorious achievement for his role in the project. He next worked on jet bombers, including B-47 and B-52, the supersonic X planes, and fighter projects, including F-84 and F-86. In 1949 he became chief of the air force's Flight Test Engineering Laboratory. From 1952 to 1956 Ridley represented the United States in NATO's Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development.

While stationed in Japan as a member of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group, Col. Jack Ridley died while a passenger in a C-47 that crashed into a mountain near Tokyo on March 12, 1957. His wife, Nell, and son, Ronald Jack, survived him. In 1980 the U.S. Air Force designated its Ridley Mission Control Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in his honor.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 13 March 1957. "Jack Ridley," Biographical File, Historical Reference Collection, History Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Houston, Texas. Louis Rotundo, Into the Unknown: The X-1 Story (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994). Chuck Yeager, et al., The Quest for Mach One: A First-Person Account of Breaking the Sound Barrier (New York: Penguin Group, 1997).

Dianna Everett

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