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The Sound of the X-15 Rocket Plane in Flight, On Vinyl!

By Wesley Fenlon

The Atlantic finds a 52-year-old record housing the sounds of famous aircraft in liftoff and flight.

"What you have heard is only prologue. What you will hear, and see, lies beyond the realm of wildest imagination. And perhaps, as close, as tomorrow."

Those words come from a 1961 record titled X-15 and Other Sounds of Rockets, Missiles, and Jets. The tone they're uttered with mixes glittery promise and cold hard fact in a way that's uniquely rooted in the early decades of radio and news broadcast; you can practically feel the 1950s as you listen to DJ Johnny Magnus describe the technological promise of the X-15, the fastest manned aircraft ever created.

Image credit: NASA

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal fished the 52-year-old record out of a box and discovered a fascinating slice of history preserved in its vinyl grooves. Even the idea of the record feels antiquated; who goes around recording the sounds that airplanes make? Today we can look them up on YouTube and see what they looked like in flight.

Somehow, though, the novelty of those sounds, the ways they were recorded, and the narration accompanying them adds up to something special. Madrigal ripped the entire album to Soundcloud and divided up the various aircraft, adding a bit of history to each. The full story is absolutely worth a read.

In some cases, you'll mostly here a lot of wind. But the story behind that wind is still interesting. For example, one of the recordings was taken of an Atlas missile in flight. More specifically, the recording comes from a device planted in the nosecone of an Atlas missile--which means they recovered the nosecone of the Atlas, which happens to be the first intercontinental ballistic missile developed by the United States.

Photo credit: The Atlantic

The record's cover, which Madrigal also uploaded, approaches the idea of recording aircraft sounds as almost impossibly difficult. Thinking about the Atlas, the dramatic synopsis actually makes some sense:

"The airplane is not easy to record--the slowest aircraft aloft today has a cruising speed of one-hundred miles per hour, while the more complicated commercial and military planes achieve speeds well above the speed of sound...On this record many of the sounds previously labeled "classified" have been released so that the fascinating sounds of actual flight could be heard. The sounds on this disc are authentic. They are sometimes bizarre, sometimes unbelieveable--but they are true...These things did happen, and did happen within the range of recording machines."

That's salesmanship. How can you resist listening to some of the recordings?