Thursday, June 20, 2024

Chuck Yeager, the breakout pilot, has died at the age of 97

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Alan Binder
Alan Binder
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Yeager broke the sound barrier when he tested the X-1 in October 1947, although this feat was not announced to the public until 1948.

She wrote on Twitter: “I lived a wonderful life, the greatest pilot in America.”

His legacy haunted subsequent generations as well, appearing in the book and 1983 movie, The Right Things.

“This is a sad day for America,” John Nicoletti, Yeager’s friend and chief of staff, told CNN Monday night. “With the sound barrier broken, we now have permission to break down the barriers.”

Nicoletti said Yeager has gone through some physical challenges in recent years and has had a fall that has resulted in complications and other problems due to his age.

Nicoletti said that Yeager stayed in Northern California but passed away in a Los Angeles hospital.

“Yeager was never upset,” Nicoletti recalls of his friend. He was an incredibly brave man.

war time

Born in 1923 and raised in West Virginia, Yeager joined the Air Force at the age of 18 in 1941 and was assigned to the Army Air Force, according to Their website.

In 1943, Yeager was commissioned as a reserve flight officer before becoming a pilot in the Fighter Command of the Eight-Air Force stationed in England.

Over the course of World War II, he flew 64 missions and shot down 13 German aircraft, according to his biography on Britannica.

Friend Nicoletti explained, “A lot of people did not succeed in getting through World War II. Most of them did not succeed in the first days of the test.” “The odds of Chuck remaining were as narrow as the odds of America’s freedom.”

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His website stated that Yeager was shot down over France in March 1944 on his eighth combat mission, but managed to escape capture with the help of French underground forces.

He returned to the United States in 1945 and married his wife Glennis, who named many of his combat aircraft.

Climb up to break the barrier

After the war, Yeager became a flight instructor and test pilot, and worked as an assistant maintenance officer in the Fighter Division of the Flight Test Division at Wrightfield, Ohio.

Yeager’s exceptional skills were quickly recognized, and he was asked to perform in air shows as well as service trials for new aircraft, according to his website.

In 1946, Colonel Albert Boyd was Head of the Flight Test Division and manually selected Yeager to be a student at a new pilot school in Wrightfield.

While he only had a high school education, Yeager would attribute his success in the program to his flying abilities.

Colonel Boyd chose Yeager to be the first to pilot the Bell X-1 missile. “He chose Yeager because he considered him the best” instinctive “pilot that he had ever seen and had demonstrated an extraordinary ability to remain calm and focused in stressful situations,” Yeager said.

The Bell X-1 on its first powered takeoff.

After months of flying with the X-1, Yeager broke the sound barrier with his plane, which he called Glamorous Glennis, on October 14, 1947, over Rogers’ Dry Lake in Southern California.

The X-1 reached a speed of Mach 1.06 or 700 mph, making Yeager the first man to travel faster than the speed of sound and earning the nickname “Fastest Man Alive”.

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Put more records

Yeager spent the following years continuing to test aircraft and push the boundaries, setting the speed record for a straight-wing aircraft of Mach 2.44 in December 1953.

Yeager was awarded the 1953 Harmon International Cup by President Dwight Eisenhower for a record-breaking.

He returned to operational aviation in 1954, commanding the 417th Fighter Bomber Bomber Squadron and stationed at Hahn Air Force Base in Germany, then at Tolle Rossiere Air Force Base in France.

President Ronald Reagan presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to Chuck Yeager at a White House lunch in 1985.

In 1957, Yeager returned to California and took command of George AFB’s 1st Day Fighter Squadron, according to his website.

He became the captain of the Experimental School of Space Research with the rank of colonel in 1962. There, he “oversaw the development of the first-of-its-kind institution designed to prepare US military pilots for testing for spaceflight,” according to his website.

The site stated that 37 graduates were selected from this program for the US space program, where 26 astronauts received flying wings in the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.

Throughout the 1960s, his positions in the Air Force led him to the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Korea.

Chuck Yeager was awarded the Silver Series by the Winners in Munich in 1965.

Yeager retired from the Air Force with the rank of brigadier general in 1975, after flying 10,131.6 hours in about 361 different types and models of military aircraft over the course of his career, according to the site.

After retirement

His website said that while his official service ended, Yeager continued to work as an important advisor to the government and the aviation industry.

Chuck Yeager was honored during the MLB baseball match between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Colorado Rockies on June 14, 2018 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Yeager was one of several people to appear in the 1983 movie, “The Right Stuff,” based on Tom Wolff’s real-life novel about the first 15 years of the US space program.

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In 1997, at the age of 74, Yeager celebrated the 50th anniversary of his landmark X-1 flight, by flying in the F-15 Eagle.

His friend Nicoletti told CNN: “General Yeager represents the best of us. For me, Chuck Yeager will always be the voice of freedom.”

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