2020-12-08 16:19:07 UTC
Chuck Yeager was of the U.S. Air Force's most decorated
test pilots and was portrayed in the movie 'The Right Stuff.'
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles “Chuck” Yeager, the World War II
fighter pilot ace and quintessential test pilot who showed he had the
“right stuff” when in 1947 he became the first person to fly faster than
sound, has died. He was 97.
Yeager died Monday, his wife, Victoria Yeager, said on his Twitter
account. “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.”
Yeager's death is “a tremendous loss to our nation,” NASA Administrator
Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
“Gen. Yeager’s pioneering and innovative spirit advanced America’s
abilities in the sky and set our nation’s dreams soaring into the jet
age and the space age. He said, ‘You don’t concentrate on risks. You
concentrate on results. No risk is too great to prevent the necessary
job from getting done,'” Bridenstine said.
“In an age of media-made heroes, he is the real deal,” Edwards Air Force
Base historian Jim Young said in August 2006 at the unveiling of a
bronze statue of Yeager.
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He was “the most righteous of all those with the right stuff,” said Maj.
Gen. Curtis Bedke, commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards.
Yeager, from a small town in the hills of West Virginia, flew for more
than 60 years, including piloting an X-15 to near 1,000 mph (1,609 kph)
at Edwards in October 2002 at age 79.
“Living to a ripe old age is not an end in itself. The trick is to enjoy
the years remaining,” he said in “Yeager: An Autobiography.”
“I haven’t yet done everything, but by the time I’m finished, I won’t
have missed much,” he wrote. “If I auger in (crash) tomorrow, it won’t
be with a frown on my face. I’ve had a ball.”
On Oct. 14, 1947, Yeager, then a 24-year-old captain, pushed an orange,
bullet-shaped Bell X-1 rocket plane past 660 mph at 40,000 feet to break
the sound barrier, at the time a daunting aviation milestone.
“Sure, I was apprehensive,” he said in 1968. “When you’re fooling around
with something you don’t know much about, there has to be apprehension.
But you don’t let that affect your job.”
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier in 1947, poses
in front of the rocket-powered Bell X-IE plane that he flew at Edwards
Air Force Base on Sept. 4, 1985. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
The modest Yeager said in 1947 he could have gone even faster had the
plane carried more fuel. He said the ride “was nice, just like riding
fast in a car.”
Yeager nicknamed the rocket plane, and all his other aircraft,
“Glamorous Glennis” for his wife, who died in 1990.
Yeager’s feat was kept top secret for about a year when the world
thought the British had broken the sound barrier first.
“It wasn’t a matter of not having airplanes that would fly at speeds
like this. It was a matter of keeping them from falling apart,” Yeager said.
Sixty-five years later to the minute, on Oct. 14, 2012, Yeager
commemorated the feat, flying in the back seat of an F-15 Eagle as it
broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) above
California’s Mojave Desert.
His exploits were told in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff,” and the
1983 film it inspired.
Yeager was born Feb. 23, 1923, in Myra, a tiny community on the Mud
River deep in an Appalachian hollow about 40 miles southwest of
Charleston. The family later moved to Hamlin, the county seat. His
father was an oil and gas driller and a farmer.
“What really strikes me looking over all those years is how lucky I was,
how lucky, for example, to have been born in 1923 and not 1963 so that I
came of age just as aviation itself was entering 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 ride,” he said.
Yeager enlisted in the Army Air Corps after graduating from high school
in 1941. He later regretted that his lack of a college education
prevented him from becoming an astronaut.
He started off as an aircraft mechanic and, despite becoming severely
airsick during his first airplane ride, signed up for a program that
allowed enlisted men to become pilots.
Yeager shot down 13 German planes on 64 missions during World War II,
including five on a single mission. He was once shot down over
German-held France but escaped with the help of French partisans.
After World War II, he became a test pilot beginning at Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Among the flights he made after breaking the sound barrier was one on
Dec. 12. 1953, when he flew an X-1A to a record of more than 1,600 mph.
He said he had gotten up at dawn that day and went hunting, bagging a
goose before his flight. That night, he said, his family ate the goose
He returned to combat during the Vietnam War, flying several missions a
month in twin-engine B-57 Canberras making bombing and strafing runs
over South Vietnam.
Yeager also commanded Air Force fighter squadrons and wings, and the
Aerospace Research Pilot School for military astronauts.
“I’ve flown 341 types of military planes in every country in the world
and logged about 18,000 hours,” he said in an interview in the January
2009 issue of Men’s Journal. “It might sound funny, but I’ve never owned
an airplane in my life. If you’re willing to bleed, Uncle Sam will give
you all the planes you want.”
When Yeager left Hamlin, he was already known as a daredevil. On later
visits, he often buzzed the town.
“I live just down the street from his mother,” said Gene Brewer, retired
publisher of the weekly Lincoln Journal. “One day I climbed up on my
roof with my 8 mm camera when he flew overhead. I thought he was going
to take me off the roof. You can see the treetops in the bottom of the
Yeager flew an F-80 under a Charleston bridge at 450 mph on Oct. 10,
1948, according to newspaper accounts. When he was asked to repeat the
feat for photographers, Yeager replied: “You should never strafe the
same place twice ’cause the gunners will be waiting for you.”
Yeager never forgot his roots and West Virginia named bridges, schools
and Charleston’s airport after him.
“My beginnings back in West Virginia tell who I am to this day,” Yeager
wrote. “My accomplishments as a test pilot tell more about luck,
happenstance and a person’s destiny. But the guy who broke the sound
barrier was the kid who swam the Mud River with a swiped watermelon or
shot the head off a squirrel before going to school.”
Yeager was awarded 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 his
breaking the sound barrier. He also received the Presidential Medal of
Freedom in 1985.
Yeager retired from the Air Force in 1975 and moved to a ranch in Cedar
Ridge in Northern California where he continued working as a consultant
to the Air Force and Northrop Corp. and became well known to younger
generations as a television pitchman for automotive parts and heat pumps.
He married Glennis Dickhouse of Oroville, California, on Feb. 26, 1945.
She died of ovarian cancer in December 1990. They had four children:
Donald, Michael, Sharon and Susan.
Yeager married 45-year-old Victoria Scott D’Angelo in 2003.