– OUT OF THIS WORLD –

If you’re not familiar with the accomplishments of aviator Chuck Yeager, you’re about to learn some things, as Tidbits passes along this knowledge.

While Chuck Yeager’s most famous feat is that of piloting the first manned airplane to exceed the speed of sound, he was already a hero before that day in 1947. Although he had no aviation experience, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps directly out of high school in 1941, becoming an aircraft mechanic at a California Air Force base. When the United States entered World War II in December of that year, Yeager enrolled in fighter pilot training.

    Yeager proved to be an outstanding pilot during training and was assigned to combat operations, shipping overseas in November, 1943.    During his eighth mission in March, 1944, at age 21, he was shot down in his P-51 Mustang over German-occupied France.    The French Resistance rescued the wounded Yeager and smuggled him into Spain, where he helped the Resistance to build bombs.    After a request to return to combat was granted, he returned to action that August. Just two months later, he became an “Ace in a day” when he downed five German planes in a single day.

    When Yeager entered World War II, he was a private, but amazingly, by the end of the war, he ranked as a captain. After the war, he remained in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a test pilot.

    On October 14, 1947, the 24-year-old climbed into the cockpit of the rocket engine-powered Bell X-1 aircraft he had named “Glamorous Glennis” in honor of his wife. Just two nights earlier, Yeager had fallen from a horse and broken two ribs. Worrying that it would disqualify him from his upcoming mission, he quietly had a civilian doctor tape his ribs.

    On flight day, Yeager was in such pain, he couldn’t shut the X-1’s hatch, and was forced to confess his injury to the flight engineer. The engineer rigged up a device by sawing a broom handle that allowed Yeager enough leverage to slam the door.

During the flight, Yeager reached a top speed of 700 mph (1127 km/hr) at an altitude of 45,000 feet (13,700 m) over the Mojave Desert, the first pilot to break the sound barrier. Due to the classified nature of the mission, the information was not released to the public for eight months.

In 1953, Yeager was once again a record breaker flying the Bell X-1A. This time, he reached a speed of 1,618 mph (2,604 km/hr) at 74,700 feet (22,769 m), breaking all speed records. It was nearly a tragedy as the craft spiraled out of control, plunging nearly 50,000 feet (15,240 m) in 70 seconds. Miraculously, Yeager was able to recover from the drop, landing safely at Edwards Air Force Base.   

    After years as a test pilot, Chuck Yeager went to Vietnam as a Fighter Wing commander, where he flew 127 combat missions, rising to the rank of Brigadier General.    At age 52, he retired from the Air Force. On October 14, 1997, at age 74, Yeager celebrated the 50th anniversary of breaking the sound barrier by repeating the feat, flying a McDonnell Douglas Eagle. On the 65th anniversary in 2012, at age 89, Yeager rode in an F-15 over the Mojave, re-creating the historic flight, as Air Force Captain David Vincent piloted.

    Fans of aviation can view Yeager’s original X-1 aircraft at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.