Chuck Yeager, The First Pilot To Break The Speed Of Sound, Dies At 97

Illustration for article titled Chuck Yeager, The First Pilot To Break The Speed Of Sound, Dies At 97
Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP (Getty Images)

Chuck Yeager, one of the pilots who helped change American aviation history, died on Monday, December 7, 2020 at the age of 97.

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Born in Myra, West Virginia in 1923, Yeager’s career as a pilot begin in 1941 during the onset of World War II. He enlisted with the US Air Force, first as a mechanic before later graduating to pilot status himself. And, after a decorated tenure in the military, he became one of the world’s renowned test pilots.

On October 14, 1947, Yeager became the first pilot to break the sound barrier. He took the experimental Bell XS-1 (which later became the X-1) rocket plane out over Muroc Dry Lake in California, where he hit Mach 1.05 at an altitude of 45,000 feet.

If you think that’s impressive, then add to it the fact that Yeager had broken some ribs just before setting out on the test. He’d been pitched from a horse while riding with his wife, and he did what any of us would have done in that situation. He got his ribs taped up by a civilian doctor and hid it from the military so he could go out and break the sound barrier.

And that’s just one of his accomplishments. He has plenty of others:

  • He was credited with shooting down more than four German planes in a day during World War II.
  • He flew more than 200 different types of military aircraft.
  • He set a speed record of Mach 2.4 in December of 1953.
  • He oversaw pilot training for NASA’s space programs.
  • He became the first pilot to eject from a plane (the experimental Lockheed Starfighter NF-104) in full compression gear under emergency conditions in 1963.
  • He received countless awards and medals, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

If you haven’t read or watched The Right Stuff, make a point of doing it.

Yeager’s legacy in recent years has been somewhat tarnished by a string of lawsuits, both filed by him and filed against him. But we’re more than likely going to remember him as an accomplished pilot.

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“Gen. Yeager’s pioneering and innovative spirit advanced America’s abilities in the sky and set our nation’s dreams soaring into the jet age and the space age. He said, ‘You don’t concentrate on risks. You concentrate on results. No risk is too great to prevent the necessary job from getting done,’” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. He noted that Yeager’s death is a “tremendous loss to our nation.”

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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Gtferrari

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