Legendary Pilot Chuck Yeager Dies
Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager, the first pilot to fly faster than the speed of sound, died on Dec. 7, according to an announcement on Twitter by his wife, Victoria Yeager. He was 97.
The news of Yeager’s achievement on his ninth attempt to break the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 on Oct. 14, 1947, reverberated around the world two months later, when Aviation Week magazine broke the story.
But the famous flight served only as a moment in an illustrious career by the brash World War II ace, test pilot, commandant of the U.S. Air Force’s astronaut training school and, in retirement, Northrop consultant.
The West Virginia native enlisted in the Army Air Corps as an aircraft mechanic three months before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941.
A special program during the war allowed Yeager to enter flight training school despite lacking a college degree.
Assigned to the 357th Fighter Group alongside skilled dogfighters such as Leonard “Kit” Carson and Bud Anderson, Yeager amassed 10.5 credited kills despite a harrowing ordeal of being shot down over France and escaping capture by sneaking into neutral Spain.
His status as an ace pilot who had evaded capture allowed him to select his own assignment after the war, which brought him into the flight test community despite lacking a college education.
After proving the sound barrier could be broken in the rocket-powered X-1, Yeager spent most of the next 15 years testing a multitude of what are now remembered as the first two generations of U.S. and foreign fighter jets, ranging from captured MiGs to the NF-104.
In retirement, Yeager consulted as a pilot and marketing agent for a variety of aircraft manufacturers, and most famously as one of Northrop’s demonstration pilots for the F-20 Tigershark.