US Air Force legendary pilot Chuck Yeager, the test pilot who took aviation to the doorstep of space by becoming the very first person to break the sound barrier, died on Monday at age 97.
Yeager’s death was announced by his wife, Victoria, via his Twitter account.
Fr @VictoriaYeage11 It is w/ profound sorrow, I must tell you that my life love General Chuck Yeager passed just before 9pm ET. An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever.— Chuck Yeager (@GenChuckYeager) December 8, 2020
Yeager was said to have gone through some physical challenges in recent years and had a fall that led to complications and other issues due to his age.
The celebrated pilot and retired brigadier general became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947. This monumental event has made Yeager one of the most famous men in the aviation history.
Born in 1923 and raised in West Virginia, Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager was raised in Myra, West Virginia. The second son of Albert Hal and Susie Mae Yeager, Chuck was always a curious kid. He was fascinated by generators, pumps and pressure regulator, and helped his father troubleshoot complicated systems. By the time he was a teenager, Yeager could already disassemble Chevrolet engines, overhaul and reassemble them with ease.
Yeager joined the US Army Air Corps in 1941 just to work on the engines of airplanes, not to fly them. In fact, his first plane ride made him throw up.
In 1943, he was commissioned a reserve flight officer becoming a pilot in the fighter command of the Eight Air Force stationed in England.
Over the course of World War II, he flew a total of 64 missions and shot down 13 German planes.
He then became a test pilot and was assigned in California as part of the secret XS-1 project, which had a goal of hitting Mac 1, the speed of sound.
Yeager was just 24 years old when he first outraced sound in the bright orange Bell X-1 craft.
A B-29 bomber carried the X-1 some 26,000 feet over California’s Mojave Desert and let it go. Neither Yeager nor the aviation engineers knew if the plane would be able to handle the unprecedented speed without breaking up.
But Yeager took the 31-foot X1 to Mach 1.06, about 700 mph at 43,000 feet. He then calmly brought the craft, gliding down to a dry lake bed, 14 minutes after it had been cut loose on a flight that was a significant step toward space exploration.
Yeager said he had noted a Mach 0.965 reading on his speedometer before it jumped off the scale without a bump.
“I was thunderstruck,” he wrote in his 1985 autobiography “Yeager.”
“After all the anxiety, breaking the sound barrier turned out to be a perfectly paved speedway.”– Capt. Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager
The modest Yeager said in 1947 he could have gone even faster had the plane carried more fuel. He said the ride “was nice, just like riding fast in a car.”
Yeager spent the following years testing aircraft and pushing limits. He set another speed record for a straight wing aircraft of Mach 2.44 on December 1953.
In the early 1960s, Yeager was in charge of astronaut-style training for Air Force personnel, 26 of which went into orbit as NASA astronauts.
Yeager reached the rank of brigadier general before he retired. In 1997, he marked the 50th anniversary of his historic flight by taking an F-15 past the speed of sound. It was his last military flight.
Having flown a total of 10,131.6 hours in some 361 different types and models of military aircraft throughout his career, Yeager has left a legacy that will be remembered for generations.