Chuck Yeager, the pilot who broke the sound barrier, dies at the age of 97

Yeager broke the sound barrier when he tested the X-1 in October 1947, though the feat wasn’t announced to the public until 1948.

“An incredible life, America’s greatest pilot,” she tweeted.

His legacy conquered later generations and was featured in the 1983 book and film “The Right Stuff”.

“This is a sad day for America,” John Nicoletti, Yeager’s friend and ground team boss, told CNN on Monday night. “After he broke the sound barrier, we now all have permission to break through barriers.”

Nicoletti said Yeager had experienced some physical challenges and fell in recent years, which caused complications and other issues due to his age.

Yeager lived in Northern California but died in a Los Angeles hospital, Nicoletti said.

“Yeager was never a quitter,” Nicoletti remembered his friend. “He was an incredibly brave man.”

Time at war

Yeager was born in 1923 and grew up in West Virginia. In 1941 he joined the Army Air Corps at the age of 18 his website.

In 1943, Yeager was appointed reserve flight officer before becoming a pilot in the fighter command of the Eight Air Force based in England.

During the course of the Second World War he flew 64 missions and, according to his biography via Britannica, shot down 13 German aircraft.

“Many didn’t make it through World War II. Most of them didn’t make it in the early days of the test pilots,” explained friend Nicoletti. “Chuck’s chances of survival were as slim as America’s chances of finding its own freedom.”

Yeager was shot down on his eighth combat mission over France in March 1944, but was able to evade capture with the help of the French underground, its website says.

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He returned to the United States in 1945 and married his wife Glennis, after whom he had named several of his fighter jets.

Climb to break the barrier

After the war, Yeager became a flight instructor and test pilot, and worked as an assistant maintenance officer in the combat division of the flight test division at Wright Field, Ohio.

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

In 1946, Colonel Albert Boyd was head of the flight test department and selected Yeager as a student at the new test pilot school at Wright Field.

While only having a high school education, Yeager attributed his success in the program to his flying skills.

Col. Boyd chose Yeager to be the first to fly the Bell X-1 rocket propelled. “He chose Yeager because he considered him to be the best ‘instinctive’ pilot he had ever seen and because he had demonstrated an exceptional ability to stay calm and focused in stressful situations,” explained Yeager’s website.

The Bell X-1 on its first launch.

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

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

Set further data records

Yeager spent the following years further testing aircraft and pushing the boundaries, setting the speed record for a straight wing aircraft of Mach 2.44 in December 1953.

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Yeager was awarded the Harmon International Trophy by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 for breaking the record.

In 1954 he returned to operational flying, took command of the 417th fighter-bomber squadron and was stationed at Hahn Air Base in Germany and then at Toul-Rosières Air Base in France.

President Ronald Reagan presented Chuck Yeager with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the country, at a luncheon in the White House in 1985.

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

In 1962 he became the commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School with the rank of colonel. There he led, according to his website, “the development of a first of its kind to prepare US military test pilots for space travel.”

Thirty-seven alumni from that program were selected for the U.S. space program, with 26 astronaut wings flying in the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, the website says.

In the 1960s, his position in the Air Force took him to the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Korea.

Chuck Yeager received the silver chain for pioneers of the wind rose in Munich in 1965.

Yeager retired from the Air Force as Brigadier General in 1975 after flying 10,131.6 hours in 361 different types and models of military aircraft over the course of his career.

After retirement

While his official service ended, Yeager continued to be a valued advisor to the government and aerospace industries, its website says.

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

Yeager was one of several people who starred in the 1983 film The Right Stuff, adapted from Tom Wolfe’s nonfiction book about the first 15 years of the American space program.

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

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

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated the wrong military branch Chuck Yeager had joined. Yeager stepped into the Army Air Corps. The US Air Force was founded in 1947.

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