Chuck Yeager, the heroic test pilot who first broke the sound barrier, has died at age 97.

His death was announced on Yeager’s Twitter page by his wife Victoria Yeager.

“It is w/ profound sorrow, I must tell you that my life love General Chuck Yeager passed just before 9pm ET,” she wrote. “An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever.”

Yeager was a flying ace in the Air Force during World War II and later set records that included becoming the first to break the sound barrier, in 1947 over the Mojave Desert.

Yeager began his history-making career in 1941, as an airplane mechanic in the U.S. Army.

After graduating from Hamlin High School in 1941, Yeager enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Forces and became an aircraft mechanic. His unusually keen vision and the United States’ entry into World War II provided his entry to flight training.

While stationed in England, Yeager flew P-51 mustangs but was shot down over France on his eighth mission. He escaped and returned to the air. On Oct. 12, 1944, Yeager downed five enemy aircraft in a single mission and finished the war with 11.5 official victories.

It was during this period that he began naming his planes “Glamorous Glennis,” after his first wife and the mother of Yeager’s four children.

After the war, Yeager remained in the military and became a test pilot at Muroc Army Air Field, now called Edwards Air Force Base. He was selected to fly a rocket-powered Bell XS-1 to research high-speed flight.

While breaking the sound barrier was certainly a legendary achievement, Yeager was also the inspiration behind “The Right Stuff”.

But General Yeager, in the headlines for a time, became a national celebrity only after the publication of “The Right Stuff,” by Tom Wolfe, in 1979 and the movie based on it four years later, in which General Yeager was played by Sam Shepard. In the opening scene, he was depicted breaking the sound barrier.

In his portrayal of the astronauts of NASA’s Mercury program, Mr. Wolfe wrote about the post-World War II test pilot fraternity in California’s desert and its notion that “a man should have the ability to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line and then have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness to pull it back in the last yawning moment — and then go up again the next day, and the next day, and every next day.”

That quality, understood but unspoken, would entitle a pilot to be part of “the very Brotherhood of the Right Stuff itself.”

 

 
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