When Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947 while piloting the Bell X-1 at 700 mph, he became known as “the fastest man alive.”
Yeager’s record is indelibly written in the annals of time, as his life will live on in books and film, but memories of the former Air Force officer are all we have now. Yeager died at the age of 97.
News of Yeager’s death was first posted to Twitter by his second wife, Victoria.
“It is w/ profound sorrow, I must tell you that my life love General Chuck Yeager passed just before 9pm ET. An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever,” she wrote.
“This is a sad day for America,” John Nicoletti, Yeager’s friend and ground crew chief told CNN. “After he broke the sound barrier, we all now have permission to break barriers.”
Yeager spent his last years living in Northern California. He suffered a fall that prompted further health complications, and died in a hospital in Los Angeles.
“Yeager was never a quitter,” Nicoletti said. “He was an incredibly courageous man.”
According to his website, Yeager was born in 1923 in West Virginia. He joined the Air Force at 18 and was assigned to the Army Air Corps in 1941.
Two years later, Yeager became a commissioned reserve flight officer and then a pilot. During World War II, Yeager flew 64 missions over Europe and was credited with downing 13 German planes.
“Many didn’t make it through World War II. Most didn’t make it through the early days of test piloting,” Nicoletti said. “The odds of survival for Chuck were as narrow as the odds of America gaining its own freedom.”
Several of the planes Yeager flew during the war were named after his sweetheart Glennis, whom he would marry in 1945.
Yeager became a flight instructor and a test pilot after returning home from the war. At the Wright Field in Ohio, Yeager’s official title became assistant maintenance officer in the Fighter Section of the Flight Test Division.
Despite only having a high school education, Yeager’s skills as a pilot were unmatched. Years of working on gas drilling equipment with his father in West Virginia prepared him to take on the more complex systems of airplanes.
He knew those machines like the back of his hand.
In 1946, Yeager was chosen for a new mission. Chief of the Flight Test Division, Col. Albert Boyd, asked him to pilot the Bell X-1, a rocket-powered jet that could send a man screaming through the air at the fastest speeds ever recorded.
“[Boyd] chose Yeager because he considered him the best ‘instinctive’ pilot he had ever seen and he had demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to remain calm and focused in stressful situations,” Yeager’s website explained.
Ass CNN reports, Yeager tested the X-1 for months before “Glamorous Glennis,” with Yeager in the cockpit, finally broke the sound barrier over Rogers Dry Lake in Southern California. Six years later, Yeager set another record flying a straight wing aircraft at Mach 2.44, more than 1,872 mph.
For his feats, President Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded Yeager the 1953 Harmon International Trophy. In 1962, Yeager became commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School, where he “presided over the development of a first of its kind institution designed to prepare US military test pilots for spaceflight,” his website states. Three years later, he received the Silver Chain for Pioneers of the Windrose in Munich. And In 1985, President Reagan honored the test pilot with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
A 74-year-old Yeager piloted an F-15 Eagle on the 50th anniversary of his sound barrier-breaking flight. To all Americans, and many other around the world, Yeager will be known as one of the few with “The Right Stuff.”
Learn more in the video below.Whizzco