The first man to break the sound barrier, Gen. Chuck Yeager, has passed away. The Wall Street Journal reports:
A West Virginia native whose maverick streak didn’t keep him from becoming an Air Force general, Gen. Yeager personified the thrill-seeking fraternity of flyboys that moved the U.S. into the jet age after World War II and later vaulted it toward space exploration.
As a brash 24-year-old, he left an indelible mark on history in October 1947 when his Bell X-1 rocketplane—named “Glamorous Glennis” after his first wife—was released from its mother ship and, spewing 6,000 pounds of thrust, accelerated as it climbed. For some 18 seconds, with Gen. Yeager and his ground crew in virtual disbelief, it flew faster than the speed of sound roughly 8 miles above Southern California’s Muroc Field, later known as Edwards Air Force Base.
Accomplishing a feat that hordes of aviation experts and even many fellow pilots feared was impossible (pilots called it exploring “ugh-known” territory) Gen. Yeager succeeded despite a pair of broken ribs suffered in a horseback-riding accident two days earlier. Reflecting his pluck and contrarian nature, he kept his injuries secret from superiors and used part of a broom as a makeshift handle to ease the pain of closing the cockpit hatch. Both the experimental craft and its mission, following eight preparatory efforts, were so secret that official acknowledgment and celebration of the record-breaking flight didn’t occur until more than a year later. Five years after that, Gen. Yeager set another record for flying at 1,650 miles per hour, or twice the speed of sound.
Gen. Yeager’s small-town personality and grace under pressure—immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s classic book “The Right Stuff”—made him a global celebrity, akin to aerospace icons such as Charles Lindbergh, who conquered the Atlantic in a solo flight, and Neil Armstrong, who was first to step on the lunar surface. President Harry S. Truman honored him at the White House, presenting a trophy calling the X-1 flight “an epochal achievement” that was “the greatest since the first successful flight” of the Wright Brothers.
Mr. Wolfe, who helped make Gen. Yeager a cultural superstar more than three decades later, wrote that “every hot pilot in the country” pined to follow the example of the X-1 “if you wanted to reach the top.”
Like his famous predecessors, Gen. Yeager largely eschewed the limelight in later years, though at one point he served as an advertising spokesman for spark plugs and batteries on television.
Over time, his influence on aviation remained so strong that even now some airline pilots subconsciously tend to mimic his terse, staccato drawl during radio transmissions.
Heroic test pilots like Chuck Yeager made today’s advanced jets, like the F-22 Raptor in the video below, possible.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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