Hard-charging aviation legend Chuck Yeager, who in 1947 became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound in level flight, died on December 7. Yeager was 97.
Yeager’s death was announced by his wife Victoria via Yeager’s verified Twitter account:
Fr @VictoriaYeage11 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.
— Chuck Yeager (@GenChuckYeager) December 8, 2020
No information on the cause of Yeager’s death was released.
Though breaking the sound barrier in the post-war years became his most famous exploit, Yeager was already a decorated pilot by the end of World War II. As an Army Air Force pilot in October 1944, he earned “ace in a day” status by downing five enemy planes while escorting Allied bombers (a feat which also won him a Silver Star).
After the war, Yeager stayed in the Army Air Force (which would reorganize itself into a separate branch of service in 1947, becoming the United States Air Force) and trained as a test pilot. Prior to his flight in the rocket-powered Bell X1, Yeager broke two ribs horseback riding. He sought treatment from a civilian doctor in order to avoid being grounded and told no one except his wife and his coworker Jack Ridley. (This incident and its aftermath are dramatized in the 1983 aviation epic The Right Stuff.) Breaking the sound barrier won Yeager the Collier Trophy, a coveted award only given to people who make enormous contributions to advancing the state of the art of aeronautics.
Yeager was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in 1969 and retired from the Air Force in 1975, though he continued to consult and provide test pilot experience to the Department of Defense. He fully retired from military aviation in 1997.
Most major news outlets are running hagiographic obituaries detailing more of Yeager’s noteworthy accomplishments if you’d like to know more—including Time Magazine and The New York Times, but I’ll close with a quote from NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine’s statement:
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. As a young naval aviator, I was one of many around the world who looked up to Chuck Yeager and his amazing feats as a test pilot. 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.