Medical Tuesday Blog
Chuck Yeager, Pioneer of Supersonic Flight, Dies at Age 97 He personified era of pilots that moved the U.S. into the jet age
Chuck Yeager, a folksy, hard-living daredevil who was the first aviator to break the sound barrier and became a symbol of bravery for generations of test pilots, astronauts and average Americans, died Monday at the age of 97.
The announcement, posted on his official Twitter account by his wife, Victoria, didn’t provide any details. Writing that he died around 9 p.m. Eastern time, she said: “An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever.”
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who became friends with Gen. Yeager, called him a native son who “was larger than life and an inspiration for generations of Americans.”
His death was also confirmed by the Associated Press.
Chuck Yeager, the first aviator to break the sound barrier, in front of the rocket-powered Bell X-1E plane in 1985.
Photo: Douglas C. Pizac/Associated Press
Updated Dec. 8, 2020 12:27 am ET
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. . .
Whom Should We Remember?
* * * * *