A real action hero died today. The following article caught my eye this morning, “Chuck Yeager, pilot who broke the sound barrier, dies at 97” by Pete Muntean, Hollie Silverman and Joe Sutton, CNN. Here are two brief paragraphs, that only provide a glimpse at Yeager’s heroics.
“US Air Force officer and test pilot Chuck Yeager, known as ‘the fastest man alive,’ has died at the age of 97. Yeager broke the sound barrier when he tested the X-1 in October 1947, although the feat was not announced to the public until 1948.
‘This is a sad day for America,’ John Nicoletti, Yeager’s friend and ground crew chief, told CNN Monday night. ‘After he broke the sound barrier, we all now have permission to break barriers.'”
Yeager’s heroics are captured in the book and movie “The Right Stuff” and his biography, which I also read. The Right Stuff is a quiet bravery to do something that you know is dangerous, but in so doing, you test both yourself and the development of the aircraft you are flying. Many who did what Yeager died doing their job. Yet, Yeager revealed a calmness to the radio tower which belied his stress in doing his job.
A couple of stories will give you a greater glimpse of this man over the more known stories. While not college educated, he was an astute student of flying and aerodynamics. His lack of college degree meant he was passed over for the first astronaut team. But, those who made it give him high regards as the best pilot they ever saw.
During World War II, he was an ace pilot, that often trained against other American pilots in captured German planes. The story goes Yeager would beat you flying the German plane, then switch planes and beat you in the American plane.
Yet, the story that I like best, when he was flying as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force base, a plane was causing the death of many a pilot. He investigated it and went to the manufacturer and found out that one mechanic was not following the diagrams and putting the bolts in the wings the wrong way, insisting they must be down, not up. This slight change was causing the plane to wobble at very high speeds leading to the crash.
Let me finish with the story captured in the movie, which I like to think was true as Yeager had a cameo part in the movie. Yeager (played by Sam Shephard) would bum a stick of gum called Beeman’s (made out of cloves) from his ground engineer before he flew. This request of “Hey Ridley, you got any Beemans?” showed he was ready to fly.