Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier, died on December 7 at age 97. His wife, Victoria, tweeted: “It is w/profound sorrow, I must tell you that my life love General Chuck Yeager passed just before 9 pm ET. An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever."
Born Feb. 13, 1923, in Myra, West Virginia, Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager reached Mach 1.06 in his Bell X-1—known as “Glamorous Glennis”—over the Mojave Desert on Oct. 14, 1947. The flight broke the sound barrier in a mission that was kept secret for seven months, according to the National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF). Yeager would then exceed twice the speed of sound on Dec. 12, 1953. He flew his final supersonic mission at age 74 on Oct. 14, 1997, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the historic flight.
The trailblazing pilot, who served in World War II flying North American's P-51 Mustangs, was drawn into the world of experimental test flight in July 1945 when he was a captain in the U.S. Army Air Force’s Flight Test Branch at Wright Field near Dayton, Ohio. Graduating from Flight Performance School in 1946, he was selected in early 1947 to pilot the X-1, the first rocket-powered research aircraft. Propelled by a 6,000-pound-thrust, liquid-fueled rocket engine, the aircraft was the culmination of 10 years of research, NAHF said. Yeager worked toward the speed of sound by conducting a series of drops from a B-29. He reached that point while on the October 14 mission from Muroc Air Force Base, dropping from the B-29 at 20,000 feet above the Mojave Desert.
Yeager made 40 flights in the X-1, but that was only one of 10 test programs he was involved with while stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, NAHF noted. He later commanded the 417th Fighter Bomber Squadron and became the commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards, training close to half of the astronauts in the Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo space programs.
Enshrined into the NAHF in 1973, Yeager had his accomplishments highlighted in Tom Wolfe's book “The Right Stuff,” which was later made into a movie.