Remembering Chuck Yeager, the world’s first supersonic pilot

Dec 9, 2020

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Decades before the famed Concorde made its first passenger flight, Chuck Yeager soared above Southern California’s Mojave Desert in a rocket-powered Bell X-1.

On 14 October 1947, at the age of 24, Yeager became the first person in the world to fly beyond the speed of sound, paving the way for generations of pilots to achieve supersonic flight — for decades to come.

Captain Charles Yaeger with the Bell X-1. (Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images)

Sadly, this aviation legend’s journey has come to an end. As confirmed by his wife, Victoria Yeager, the former United States Air Force general died Monday, 7 December, in Los Angeles.

His nearly 100 years were remarkably well-lived, however.

While Yeager’s 1947 record may be his most celebrated achievement, he continued to make his mark throughout his more than 30 years in the U.S. military, where he served in World War II, the Vietnam War and the Cold War. According to an NPR report, Yeager managed to fly more than 360 aircraft types during that time.

General Chuck Yeager in 1986 at Edwards Air Force Base. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

Yeager’s fame continued even after his Air Force retirement in 1975, with a cameo in “The Right Stuff,” a film that detailed elements of his career, and those of other military test pilots.

Yeager’s high-speed adventures weren’t limited to the cockpit. He went on to serve as a spokesperson for a variety of vehicle manufacturers, and even drove the pace car at several popular races.

The famed pilot’s flying adventures continued through his 89th birthday, when he broke the sound barrier yet again in an F-15 operated by another pilot in 2012, celebrating the 65th anniversary of the day he first flew beyond Mach 1.

(Photo by Fairfax Media/Getty Images)

Yeager was 97 at the time of his death, on 7 December 2020 — not far from the site of his first supersonic record in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see the return of commercial supersonic travel — though whether or not that becomes a reality within any of our lifetimes remains… up in the air.

Featured photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images.

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