Howard C.Lilly 1916-1948
Howard Clifton Lilly was trained as a Naval aviator. In 1942 he became a test pilot for NACA, the US National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. His flights produced a great deal of valuable data for aeronautical engineers.
During the late 1940s, American aviators edged closer and closer to breaking the sound barrier. Finally, Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager, working with NACA engineers, flew faster than the speed of sound in 1947. Less than six months later, Lilly became the third pilot to break the sound barrier. For that Mach 1 flight, Lilly flew the same kind of plane Yeager had flown, an XS-1.
At about noon on May 3, 1948, Lilly flew a different plane -- a "Skystreak" (D-558-1) -- which, although it was slower, at least had the ability to take off from the ground. It was the nineteenth time Lilly had flown the plane, but this time, the engine compressor broke as he was taking off. Moments after leaving the ground, the plane crashed and exploded. Lilly was 31 years old.
Although he was the first NACA pilot to die in the line of duty, Lilly was certainly not the last