On Monday, at the age of 97, Chuck Yeager, the steep “Right Stuff” test pilot who brought aviation to the doorstep of space by being the first human to crack the sound barrier about 70 years ago, died.
The death of Yeager was announced by his wife, Victoria, on his Twitter account.
It’s w/ great grief, I have to tell you that just before 9pm ET my life love General Chuck Yeager died. “Victoria Yeager said in the tweet, “An amazing life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of courage, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever.
Yeager, an unexpected nominee to become one of history’s most successful aviators, entered the U.S. In 1941, the Army Air Corps was only focused on aircraft engines, not flying them. It made him throw up on his first plane trip.
For the burgeoning U.S. space programme, Yeager was turned over when he never went to college, but he was hardly heartbroken not to become an astronaut. He found them to be merely passengers “throwing the right switches from the ground on instructions.”
In The Right Stuff,” his 1979 book about the early days of the space programme, author Tom Wolfe was so fascinated by the mien of the rough-hewn man from Hamlin, West Virginia, that he made Yeager a popular character.
Wolfe said Yeager was born with the right things that made him a legendary test pilot, but Yeager said it was more a matter of chance, a better-than-average vision and a detailed understanding of his aircraft.
In World War Two, those qualities served Yeager well. In tribute to his mother, Glennis Dickhouse, he was credited with 12 ‘kills’ of German aircraft, including five in a single dogfight, flying a P-51 Mustang called Glamorous Glennis.
He became a research pilot after the war and was assigned as part of the classified XS-1 project to Muroc Air Force Base in California, which had a target of reaching Mach 1, the speed of sound. Yeager was a 24-year-old captain, checking a dozen planes a week in the brilliant orange Bell X-1 craft, when he first made an outrageous sound on Oct. 14, 1947.
DETERRED NOT BY Fractured Ribs
A few days ago, he had broken two ribs in a horseback riding accident, but did not tell his bosses for fear that he would be grounded. He had to use a sawed-off broomstick to close the X-1’s cockpit before takeoff because of the discomfort.
A B-29 bomber flew the X-1 26,000 feet (7,925 m) over the Mojave Desert in California and let it go. Neither Yeager nor the aviation engineers knew whether, without breaking up, the aircraft – or the pilot – could handle the unprecedented altitude. Yeager, though, brought the 31-foot (10 metre) X-1, propelled by liquid oxygen and alcohol, to Mach 1.06, at 43,000 feet (13,000 metres), around 700 mph (1,126 kph), as if it were a normal flight.
He then quietly took the craft, which was also named after his wife, Glennis, gliding down to a dry lake bed 14 minutes after it was cut loose on a flight that was a big step towards discovering space.
Before it jumped off the scale without a bump, Yeager said he had noted a Mach 0.965 reading on his velocity metre.
“In his 1985 autobiography “Yeager,” he wrote, “I was thunderstruck.” “After all the fear, breaching the sound barrier turned out to be a smoothly paved speedway.
Yeager was unfazed by doing a job that took him in every outing to the verge of death – such as the 1953 flight in which, after reaching Mach 2.4, he successfully landed his X-1A and then lost control of the plane for 51 seconds.
It’s your responsibility,” he told an interviewer, “to fly the aircraft. If it kills you, you don’t know much about it anyway, so why are you thinking about it? ”
Charles Elwood Yeager was born on Feb. 13, 1923, one of five siblings in Myra, West Virginia. He loved math as a schoolboy and could type 60 words per minute – an example of the hand-eye coordination that would serve him in the cockpit so well.
As a youth, Yeager had little experience in aircraft – he didn’t even see one until he was 18, when he joined the U.S. Air Corps of the Army to be a technician.
Yeager commanded fighter squadrons during his test pilot heyday, and flew 127 combat missions during the Vietnam War.
He was in charge of astronaut-style training for Air Force personnel in the early 1960s, but after the U.S. government agreed not to militarise space, the programme stopped. Yet as NASA astronauts, 26 individuals trained by Yeager went into space.
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Having achieved the rank of Brigadier General, Yeager celebrated the 50th anniversary of his groundbreaking flight in 1997 by taking an F-15 above the speed of sound. Then he declared that the last military flight was his.
In 2016, at the age of 93, Yeager became something of a social media phenomenon when he started answering public questions on Twitter and reacting in a curt and occasionally curmudgeonly way. When asked what he was saying about the moon, he responded, “There it is.”
Yeager and Glennis, who died in 1990 because of cancer, had four children. In 2003, he married Victoria Scott D’Angelo.