Chuck Yeager, a former Air Force pilot who became the first pilot to break the sound barrier, has passed away. He was 97. Although he broke the speed of sound in a plane, and not a car, we felt it important to acknowledge a man who shared the same love for speed that many of us auto aficionados also do.
Yeager was the first pilot to break the speed of sound. He accomplished that feat in October 1947 while flying the experimental Bell XS-1. The plane was nicknamed “Glamourous Glennis” after Yeager’s wife.
“Sure, I was apprehensive,” he said about the record breaking flight in 1968. “When you’re fooling around with something you don’t know much about, there has to be apprehension. But you don’t let that affect your job.”
Yeager served during World War II and later the Vietnam War. In WWII, he shot down 13 German planes in 64 missions. Later, during Vietnam, he commanded fighter squadrons in Germany and Southeast Asia. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1969, and retired six years later. Yeager became a bit of a pop culture icon when he was a character in the film The Right Stuff. He was portrayed by actor Sam Shepard in the movie, which was based on the Tom Wolfe book.
“An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever,” wrote Yeager’s wife, on a social media post.
Yeager was a known daredevil. He reportedly once flew an F-80 underneath a bridge in Charleston at 450 mph. When asked about the stunt, Yeager joked that “you should never strafe the same place twice ’cause the gunners will be waiting for you.”
Yeager received numerous awards for his service, including the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, the Air Medal, and the Purple Heart. He also received the Collier air trophy from President Harry S. Truman for breaking the speed of sound, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985.
Yeager is survived by his second wife Victoria, and his four children (Donald, Michael, Sharon, and Susan) from his previous marriage. His first wife Glennis passed away in 1990.