US test pilot Chuck Yeager dies aged 97

Obit Chuck Yeager

Charles "Chuck" Yeager, the Second World War fighter pilot ace and test pilot who became the first person to fly faster than sound in 1947, has died aged 97.

Brig Gen Yeager died on Monday, his wife, Victoria Yeager, said on his Twitter account.

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

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CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - MARCH 1949: US Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager, who on October 14, 1947 became the first man to break the sound barrier, posing beside the plane in which he did it, the Bel X-1, nicknamed Glamorous Glennis in honor of his wife. (Photo by US Air Force/US Air Force/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Yeager talks to members of the media following a re-enactment flight commemorating his breaking of the sound barrier 65 years ago on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Yeager talks to members of the media following a re-enactment flight commemorating his breaking of the sound barrier 65 years ago on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, file photo, retired Air Force Gen. Chuck Yeager is shown as he is honored before the start of an NBA basketball game between the Miami Heat and the Portland Trail Blazers, in Miami. Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier, died Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, at age 97. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
Gen. Chuck Yeager in introduced during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and the Minnesota Timberwolves in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Capt. David Vincent, left, congratulates retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Yeager following their F-15D re-enactment flight commemorating Yeager's breaking of the sound barrier 65 years ago on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager smiles to the crowd during the Veterans Day parade in Sacramento, Calif. Friday Nov. 11, 2011. Yeager, who was the first man to break the sound barrier, was the grand marshall of the parade.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Chuck Yeager smiles while signing autographs during his 80th birthday celebration in Plano, Texas, Thursday, May 1, 2003. On Oct. 14, 1947, Yeager became the first person to exceed the speed of sound, flying the experimental Bell X-1 airplane over Edwards Air Force Base in California. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
General Chuck Yeager poses next to a model of the Bell X-1 plane that he used to break the sound barrier for the first time in 1947, at the 20th anniversary of the film "The Right Stuff" at the Egyptian Theater in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, Monday, June 9, 2003. Yeager named the plane "Glamorous Glennis" in honor of his wife. Winner of four Academy Awards, the epic film charted the birth of the U.S. space program. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier in 1947, poses in front of the rocket-powered Bell X-IE plane that he flew at Edwards Air Force Base on Sept. 4, 1985. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
U.S. Force Major Charles “Chuck” Yeager, left, and Miss Jacqueline Cochran, winners of this year’s Harmon International Aviation Awards as the world’s outstanding aviator and aviatrix, shown, July 4, 1954. Maj. Yeager was honored for his piloting the X-1A rocket-powered experimental aircraft to a speed of more than 1,600 miles per hour; Miss Cochran for becoming the first woman ever to break through the sound barrier and for many speed records. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this 1948 file photo, test pilot Charles E. Yeager, 25, poses for a picture in a jet's cockpit. Yeager was first to fly faster than the speed of sound. Another Yeager feat, flying a jet under a Charleston, W.Va., bridge in 1948, was not reported by the local media. Yeager died Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, at age 97. (AP Photo/File)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 25: General Chuck Yeager attends The Country Music Hall of Fame 2015 Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on October 25, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for CMHOF)
SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 08: General Chuck Yeager attends the 2011 California Hall of Fame Inductee Ceremony at the California Musuem on December 8, 2011 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
General Chuck Yeager (Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Chuck Yeager during a press conference at Edwards Air Force Base during the 50th anniversary celebration of his October 14, 1947 Bell X-1 flight, in which he became the first man to break the sound barrier. Yeager again flew at the speed of sound, only this time in a McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. (Photo by �� Kim Kulish/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
LS.Yeager.1.0917.BY Brig.Gen.Chuck Yeager (cq) ready to hop into a flight suit at Edwards Air Force Base. (Photo by Boris Yaro/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Chuck Yeager one time astronaut from America visiting Australia.Pic taken in adventure Dick Smiths home at Terry Hills.Chuck Yeager.... wants to break the sound barrier again in 1997.For years, he was the last man alive - a farm ***** Virginia who, ***** 1947, became the world's first supersonic pilot, nudging the experimental Bell X-1 rocket plane through the sound barrier.Nearly 47 years later, 71-year- old General Chuck Yeager, the world's most famous test pilot and the inspiration for the film The Right Stuffy has not slowed down at all."I've got a goal I've set for myself," he said in an exclusive interview in Sydney. "I want to fly in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of that flight and break the sound barrier again."Incredible as it seems, he is almost certain to do it. He still flies regularly at the speed of sound, streaking through the skies above the United States in some of the world's most advanced fighters. April 24, 1994. (Photo by Brendan Esposito/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).
EDWARDS, CA - CIRCA 1986: General Chuck Yeager poses during a portrait session circa 1986 at Edwards Air Force Base near Edwards, California. Yeager became the first man to travel faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina: Pilot Chuck Yeager waves from the doorway of his twin-engine Piper Cheyenne prop-jet after establishing a speed record in flying from Edwards Air force Base, California to the Wright Brothers Memorial. Yeager made the trip in 5 hours, 15 minutes, and 11 seconds as part of the 83rd first flight anniversary ceremony.
EDWARDS, CA - CIRCA 1986: General Chuck Yeager poses during a portrait session circa 1986 at Edwards Air Force Base near Edwards, California. Yeager became the first man to travel faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
CANADA - JULY 30: Chuck Yeager: His book is an insight into the kind of person who molded the post-1945 United States and paved the way for the space age. (Photo by Mike Slaughter/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
CANADA - JULY 30: Chuck Yeager (Photo by Mike Slaughter/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - 1983: Test pilot Chuck Yeager holding model of his xB-1 airplane. (Photo by John Bryson/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)
American Air Force Colonel Charles "Chuck" Yeager holding a model of the Bell X-1 aircraft he flew 15 years ago to become the first person to break the sound barrier, New York City, New York, October 18, 1962. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 8/25/1958- Picture shows Lt. Col. Charles "Chuch" Yeager, first man on earth to fly faster than sound, led members of his first Tactical Fighter Squadron from George AFB, CA, non-stop across the Atlantic last week.
Captain Charles E Yeager standing next to the Air Force's Bell X-1 supersonic research aircraft, Muroc Army Air Force Base, California, October 1947. Yeager named it the Glamorous Glennis after his wife. He became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 01/21/1949-Los Angeles, CA.: Air Force Captain, Charles Yeager, 25, has spent more time flying supersonic jet planes than anyone else. Slowed down long enough to talk about speed of sound flying, Jan.18, Yeager has spent approximately 20 minutes in the supersonic.
Chuck Yeager, first man to break the sound barrier, wears a flight suit and helmet.
(Original Caption) Washington, D. C.: Captain Charles E. Yeager, "Chuck" is credited with shooting down 13 German planes in fifteen months with the Eighth Air Force in Europe.
Captain Charles E Yeager is in the cockpit of the Bell X-1 supersonic research aircraft, Muroc Army Air Force Base, California, October 1947. He became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound in level flight on October 14. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
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Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said Gen Yeager's death is "a tremendous loss" to America.

"Gen Yeager's pioneering and innovative spirit advanced America's abilities in the sky and set our nation's dreams soaring into the jet age and the space age. He said, 'You don't concentrate on risks. You concentrate on results. No risk is too great to prevent the necessary job from getting done,'" Mr Bridenstine added.

Edwards air force base historian Jim Young said in August 2006 at the unveiling of a bronze statue of Yeager: "In an age of media-made heroes, he is the real deal."

He was "the most righteous of all those with the right stuff," said Maj Gen Curtis Bedke, commander of the US air force flight test centre at Edwards.

Gen Yeager, who was from a small town in the hills of West Virginia, flew for more than 60 years, including piloting an X-15 to near 1,000mph at Edwards in October 2002 at the age of 79.

Chuck Yeager
Then-Captain Yeager poses in a cockpit in 1948 (AP)

"Living to a ripe old age is not an end in itself. The trick is to enjoy the years remaining," he said in Yeager: An Autobiography.

"I haven't yet done everything, but by the time I'm finished, I won't have missed much," he wrote.

"If I auger in (crash) tomorrow, it won't be with a frown on my face. I've had a ball."

On October 14 1947, Gen Yeager, then a 24-year-old captain, pushed an orange, bullet-shaped Bell X-1 rocket plane past 660mph to break the sound barrier – at that time, a daunting aviation milestone.

"Sure, I was apprehensive," he said 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."

The modest Gen Yeager said in 1947 he could have gone even faster had the plane carried more fuel. He said the ride "was nice, just like riding fast in a car".

Chuck Yeager
Chuck Yeager, pictured in 1997 (AP)

Gen Yeager nicknamed the rocket plane, and all his other aircraft, Glamorous Glennis, after his wife, who died in 1990.

The pilot's record-breaking feat was kept top secret for about a year when the world thought Britain had broken the sound barrier first.

"It wasn't a matter of not having aeroplanes that would fly at speeds like this. It was a matter of keeping them from falling apart," Gen Yeager said.

Sixty-five years later to the minute, on October 14 2012, Gen Yeager commemorated the feat, flying in the back seat of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000ft above California's Mojave Desert.

His exploits were told in Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff, and the 1983 film it inspired.

Gen Yeager enlisted in the army air corps after graduating from high school in 1941. He later regretted that his lack of a college education prevented him from becoming an astronaut.

He started off as an aircraft mechanic and, despite becoming severely airsick during his first aeroplane ride, signed up for a programme that allowed enlisted men to become pilots.

Gen Yeager shot down 13 German planes on 64 missions during the Second World War, including five on a single mission.

He was once shot down over German-held France but escaped with the help of French partisans.

After the war, he became a test pilot beginning at Wright-Patterson air force base in Dayton, Ohio.

Among the flights he made after breaking the sound barrier was one on December 12 1953, when he flew an X-1A to a record of more than 1,600mph. He said he had got up at dawn that day and went hunting, bagging a goose before his flight. That night, he said, his family ate the goose for dinner.

He returned to combat during the Vietnam War, flying several missions a month in twin-engine B-57 Canberras, making bombing and strafing runs over South Vietnam.

Gen Yeager never forgot his roots, and West Virginia named bridges, schools and Charleston's airport after him.

"My beginnings back in West Virginia tell who I am to this day," Gen Yeager wrote.

"My accomplishments as a test pilot tell more about luck, happenstance and a person's destiny. But the guy who broke the sound barrier was the kid who swam the Mud River with a swiped watermelon or shot the head off a squirrel before going to school."

Gen Yeager was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, the Air Medal and the Purple Heart. President Harry S Truman awarded him the Collier air trophy in December 1948 for his breaking the sound barrier. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985.

He married Glennis Dickhouse of Oroville, California, on February 26 1945. She died of ovarian cancer in December 1990. They had four children: Donald, Michael, Sharon and Susan.

Gen Yeager married 45-year-old Victoria Scott D'Angelo in 2003.

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