Chuck Yeager, 1st to cross the sound barrier, dies at 97

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Retired Air Force Brig. General Charles “Chuck” Yeager, the WWII fighter pilot ace and quintessential test pilot who showed he had the “good things” when, in 1947, he became the first person. to fly faster than sound, died. He was 97 years old.

Yeager died on Monday, his wife, Victoria Yeager said his Twitter account. “It is with deep sadness that I have to tell you that my lifelong love, General Chuck Yeager, passed just before 9pm ET. ”

Yeager’s death is “a huge loss to our nation,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

“General Yeager’s pioneering and innovative spirit advanced America’s capabilities in the skies and immersed our nation’s dreams in the jet age and the space age. He said: ‘You don’t focus on the risks. great to prevent the necessary work from being done, ”said Bridenstine.

“In the age of media heroes, he’s the real deal,” Edwards Air Force Base Historian Jim Young said in August 2006 during the unveiling of a bronze statue of Yeager.

He was “the fairest of all with the right things,” said Major General Curtis Bedke, commander of the Air Force flight test center at Edwards.

Yeager, from a small town in the West Virginia hills, has flown for over 60 years, including piloting an X-15 at nearly 1,000 mph (1,609 km / h) at Edwards in October 2002 at 79 years.

“Living to old age is not an end in itself. The trick is to take advantage of the years that are left, ”he said in“ Yeager: An Autobiography ”.

“I haven’t done everything yet, but by the time I’m done, I won’t have missed much,” he writes. “If I crash (crash) tomorrow it won’t be with a frown on my face. I had a bullet.

On October 14, 1947, Yeager, then a 24-year-old captain, pushed an orange bullet-shaped Bell X-1 rocket plane past 660 mph to break the sound barrier, a milestone at the time in aviation.

“Of course I was worried,” he said in 1968. “When you’re having fun with something you don’t know much about, there must be apprehension. But you don’t let that affect your work. ”

The modest Yeager said in 1947 that he could have gone even faster if the plane had carried more fuel. He said the ride “was nice, just like driving fast in a car.”

Yeager nicknamed the rocket plane, and all of his other planes, “Glamorous Glennis” for his wife, who died in 1990.

Yeager’s feat was kept under wraps for about a year when the world believed the British had broken the sound barrier first.

“It was not a matter of not having planes capable of flying at speeds like this. It was about keeping them from collapsing, ”Yeager said.

Sixty-five years later to the minute, on October 14, 2012, Yeager commemorated the feat by flying in the backseat of an F-15 Eagle as it breached the sound barrier at over 30,000 feet ( 9,144 meters) over Mojave, California. Desert.

His exploits were recounted in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff” and the 1983 film he inspired.

Yeager was born on February 23, 1923 in Myra, a small community on the Mud River at the bottom of an Appalachian trough about 40 miles southwest of Charleston. The family then moved to Hamlin, the county seat. His father was an oil and gas driller and a farmer.

“What really strikes me looking at all these years is how lucky I was, how lucky, for example, to be born in 1923 and not in 1963, so I came of age as aviation itself entered the modern era, ”Yeager said. in a December 1985 speech at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

“I was just a lucky kid who caught the right race,” he said.

Yeager enlisted in the Army Air Corps after graduating from high school in 1941. He later regretted that his lack of college education prevented him from becoming an astronaut.

He started out as an aircraft mechanic and, despite getting air sick on his first airplane flight, enrolled in a program that allowed enlisted men to become pilots.

Yeager shot down 13 German planes in 64 missions during WWII, including five in a single mission. He was shot down once over German-controlled France but escaped with the help of French partisans.

After World War II, he became a test pilot from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Among the flights he took after breaking the sound barrier was one on December 12, 1953, when he flew an X-1A at a record high of over 1,600 mph. He said he got up at dawn that day and went hunting, bagging a goose before his flight. That night, he said, his family ate the goose for dinner.

He returned to combat during the Vietnam War, carrying out several missions per month in the twin-engine B-57 Canberras carrying out bombings and strafing in southern Vietnam.

Yeager also commanded Air Force fighter squadrons and squadrons, as well as the Aerospace Research Flight School for military astronauts.

“I have flown 341 types of military aircraft in every country in the world and logged about 18,000 hours,” he said in an interview in the January 2009 issue of the Men’s Journal. “It might sound funny, but I’ve never owned a plane in my life. If you’re ready to bleed, Uncle Sam will give you all the planes you want.

When Yeager left Hamlin, he was already known as a daredevil. On subsequent visits, it often buzzed the city.

“I live just down the street from his mother,” said Gene Brewer, retired editor of the weekly Lincoln Journal. “One day I climbed onto my roof with my 8mm camera when it flew over my head. I thought he was going to bring me down from the roof. You can see the treetops at the bottom of the photos.

Yeager flew an F-80 under a Charleston bridge at 450 mph on October 10, 1948, according to newspaper reports. When asked to repeat the feat for the photographers, Yeager replied, “You should never strafe the same location twice because the gunners will be waiting for you.” ”

Yeager has never forgotten his roots, and West Virginia gave its name to Charleston’s bridges, schools and airport.

“My debut in West Virginia says who I am to this day,” Yeager wrote. “My accomplishments as a test pilot say more about a person’s luck, luck and fate. But the guy who broke the sound barrier was the kid who swam the mud river with a wiped watermelon or pulled the head of a squirrel before going to school. ”

Yeager has received the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, the Air Medal and the Purple Heart. President Harry S. Truman awarded him the Collier Air Trophy in December 1948 for breaking the sound barrier. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985.

Yeager retired from the Air Force in 1975 and moved to a ranch in Cedar Ridge, Northern California, where he continued to work as a consultant to the Air Force and of Northrop Corp. and has become well known to younger generations as a television pitchman for auto parts and heat pumps.

He married Glennis Dickhouse of Oroville, California on February 26, 1945. She died of ovarian cancer in December 1990. They had four children: Donald, Michael, Sharon and Susan.

Yeager married Victoria Scott D’Angelo, 45, in 2003.



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