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Famed test pilot Chuck Yeager, 1st to break sound barrier, dies at 97

By
Don Jacobson
Capt. Charles Chuck Yeager is pictured standing next to the X-1 supersonic research aircraft in 1947. Yeager, who died Monday, became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947. File Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force
Capt. Charles "Chuck" Yeager is pictured standing next to the X-1 supersonic research aircraft in 1947. Yeager, who died Monday, became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947. File Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force

Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Famed U.S. Air Force officer and test pilot Chuck Yeager, who became the first person in history to break the sound barrier, has died at age 97.

Yeager's wife, Victoria, announced his death late Monday.

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"It is [with] profound sorrow, I must tell you that my life love Gen. Chuck Yeager passed," Victoria Yeager tweeted late Monday. "An incredible life well lived, America's greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever."

Yeager was dubbed "the fastest man alive" when it was revealed in 1948 that he'd broken the sound barrier a year earlier while testing the experimental X-1 aircraft.

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Born Charles Elwood Yeager in West Virginia in 1923, he joined the Air Force as a mechanic at age 18, but quickly earned a commission as a flight officer. By 1943, he was in Britain piloting P-51 Mustangs on missions against Nazi Germany during World War II, according to his website.

Yeager was shot down over France in 1944 on his eighth air mission, and with the help of French resistance fighters, he escaped to Spain through the Pyrenees. He soon resumed combat, which included downing five German fighters in one encounter on Oct. 12, 1944.

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After the war, Yeager was assigned to test aircraft and in 1945 flew accelerated service trials for the new P-80A Shooting Star, America's first operational jet fighter. The following year, Yeager was chosen by USAF Col. Albert Boyd to attend a new test pilot school at Wright Field in Ohio.

Yeager later achieved more fame with the 1983 film "The Right Stuff," which depicted his historic 1947 supersonic flight. File Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force
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In 1947, Boyd selected Yeager to become the first person to attempt to exceed the speed of sound, in the rocket-powered Bell X-1 aircraft. Yeager attained a top speed of Mach 1.06, or 700 mph, on Oct. 14, 1947, and immediately achieved celebrity status in 1948 when news of the historic achievement was declassified.

In the years that followed, Yeager continued to set speed records as a top test pilot, including the speed mark for a straight wing aircraft (Mach 2.44) in 1953.

In 1962, Yeager became commandant of the Air Force's Aerospace Research Pilot School, whose mission included preparing military test pilots for space flight. He retired from the Air Force with the rank of brigadier general in 1975.

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Yeager become known to later generations through his depiction in the 1983 film The Right Stuff, which was based on a nonfiction novel by Tom Wolfe. In the film, which re-enacts his historic flight in the X-1, he is portrayed by actor Sam Shepard.

Besides his wife, Yeager is survived by children Susan, Don and Sharon. His first wife, Glennis, died in 1990, and his son Mickey died in 2011.

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