Rancho Santa Fe student wins National History Day contest

Henry Hou won for his project "Frontiers in Aviation: Breaking the Sound Barrier".
Henry Hou won for his project “Frontiers in Aviation: Breaking the Sound Barrier”.
(Copyright Henry Hou)

Henry Hou, a Bishop’s School eighth grader was recently named a winner at the 2023 National History Day San Diego County Competition. The Rancho Santa Fe resident’s project “Frontiers in Aviation: Breaking the Sound Barrier” won the Junior Individual Exhibit Champion, exploring the story of Chuck Yeager’s feat in the experimental Bell X-1 back in 1947. Henry will be representing San Diego at the California National History Day competition next month in Sacramento.

National History Day is an academic competition, similar to a science fair. After selecting a historical topic, students present their findings as an exhibit, website, podcast, poster or paper. Henry’s project was an exhibit, using photos from news archives and museums to illustrate his words.

“I picked Yeager as one of the main people as he was the person who broke the sound barrier,” Henry said. “Yeager only became a national hero a year after the event due to the importance of this breakthrough for military aviation and thus was needed to be kept confidential.”

Doing his project, Henry learned that on “the fateful day” of October 14, 1947, Yeager embarked on this journey with two broken ribs from a horse riding accident. “This caused him to not be able to properly close and lock the door of the Bell X-1 due to the pain of the injury,” he said. “This led him to using a broomstick as a way to close the door, allowing for the historical flight to happen.”

While Yaeger became a national hero, Henry’s project also gave credit to aeronautical engineer Jack Ridley and the owner of Bell Aircraft, Laurence Bell.

Henry also explored why supersonic flight hasn’t been widely commercialized. While there was the Concorde, Henry attributed it to two main issues.

“First, is the sound pollution that it would cause when the plane would be flown over land. It would cause thousands of noise complaints and property damage due to the pressure of the shockwave,” Henry said. “Another reason was the cost to fly at supersonic speeds due to fuel usage. Back when the Concorde was still flying, only rich people rode it as it was much faster than other airliners and could get a person to a place faster for business meetings.”

The Concorde was the last supersonic airliner to fly due to high maintenance costs and multiple crashes, Henry learned. The Concorde last flew in 2003.

Local students from the Solana Beach School District, Canyon Crest Academy and Pacific Trails Middle School were also among the National History Day winners.