The original ‘fastest man alive’ leaves inspiring legacy
It’s safe to say no one changed the world faster than Chuck Yeager.
The pilot became the first human to break the speed of sound. In that quick moment in 1947 in his plane, Col. Yeager opened up the heavens and set the horizon for a space program that landed the first man on the moon.
Col. Yeager has left a legacy that puts his name right up there with astronauts Alan Shepard, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.
Like them, he had the right stuff.
Charles “Chuck” Yeager died Monday. He was 97.
Col. Yeager was born Feb. 13, 1923, in Myra, West Virginia, and moved to Hamlin, a town of 400 people when he was 5.
He was an average student more interested in hunting and fishing than his studies, according to chuckyeager.com.
But Col. Yeager shared another interest with his father, Albert Hal Yeager: machines, from generators to pumps.
He credited his dad for helping him to understand them and repair them. By the time he was a teenager, Col. Yeager could disassemble and reassemble Chevrolet engines.
At Hamlin High School, Col. Yeager’s best subjects were geometry and typing.
After graduating in 1941, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and later served in the Eighth Air Force, which was equipped with the acclaimed P-51 Mustang fighter plane. Col. Yeager flew a P-51B, which he named Glamurus Glen after his fiancee, Glennis Faye Dickhouse.
In 1944, Col. Yeager started World War II combat missions. On his eighth combat mission, he was shot down, but avoided capture with the help of the French underground. He rejoined his unit in England and went on to achieve aerial victories in his P-51D.
As a test pilot, Col. Yeager flew his way into the history books by breaking the speed of sound in his X-1 craft in 1947. He made it Mach 1.06, flying at an unprecedented 700 mph.
Col. Yeager earned the title of “the fastest man alive.”
In 1954, he took command of the 417th Fighter Bomber Squadron, stationed in Germany and later France.
In 1961, Col. Yeager became deputy director of flight test in 1961, working at Edwards Air Force Base. The next year, he became commander of the new U.S. Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School, designed to prepare military test pilots for spaceflight. Thirty-seven of its graduates were chosen for the space program, and 26 became astronauts in the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs.
Although Col. Yeager never made it to space, he mentored an entire generation of spaceflight pioneers.
His place in history was noted in Tom Wolfe’s 1979 bestseller about the early spaceflight, “The Right Stuff,” which was adapted as a 1983 movie.
In 1982, Col. Yeager celebrated the 35th anniversary of his first supersonic flight by flying a Northrop F-20 at Mach 1.45.
The right stuff indeed.