Chuck Yeager, sound barrier pioneer pilot, dies at 97

Famed test pilot Chuck Yeager has died, aged 97.

Yeager was pilot of the first crewed vehicle to exceed Mach 1 and break the sound barrier, a feat he accomplished in 1947 behind the stick of a Bell X-1. A test pilot at the time, Yeager landed the role after displaying exceptional skill as a fighter pilot in World War II.

Despite being beaten to breaking Mach 2, he smashed that record within weeks of it being set by hitting Mach 2.44 in December 1953. He also set altitude records, and flew more than 150 types and models of craft in a celebrated career.

His death was announced by his wife Victoria, who borrowed his Twitter account to reveal the sad news.

Appreciations quickly flowed. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Yeager was “a legend in his own time.”

“Chuck’s bravery and accomplishments are a testament to the enduring strength that made him a true American original, and NASA’s Aeronautics work owes much to his brilliant contributions to aerospace science,” Bridenstine said. “His path blazed a trail for anyone who wanted to push the limits of human potential, and his achievements will guide us for generations to come.”

Yeager remained in the US Air Force until 1975, having served in several other conflicts. He continued flying until well into the 2010s, and in 2012 again broke the sound barrier albeit as an 89-year-old co-pilot.

Yeager’s aviation feats, and those of other test pilots of the 1950s and 1960s, inspired the book and film The Right Stuff. Both works depicted Yeager’s belief that astronauts did little real flying and ought not to be compared to test pilots who had to exercise exceptional skill day in, day out.

Nonetheless, astronauts, a good number of whom were once test pilots, joined in offering tributes to mark Yeager’s passing… ®

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