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Chuck Yeager, 1923-2020

R.I.P. Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound passed away today at the age of 97.

A World War II flying ace, Gen. Yeager achieved his greatest fame by flying on Oct. 14, 1947, the experimental Bell X-1 at the speed of sound, Mach 1, in level flight at 45,000 feet — the first man to do so.

The achievement was not announced to the public though until June 1948 for security reasons.

Yeager epitomized the greatest generation, flying in combat in World War II, and commanding fighter squadrons in both the Korean and Vietnamese wars. More significantly, his 1947 supersonic flight was achieved with two broken ribs, caused when he fell from a horse the week before. He told none of his commanders, and flew anyway.

Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Garry

    His first name is Chuck, not Chris

  • “More significantly, his 1947 supersonic flight was achieved with two broken ribs, caused when he fell from a horse the week before. He told none of his commanders, and flew anyway.”

    Remember reading about that in “The Right Stuff” (Wolfe Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1979). Yeager is unclear on whether he was drunk, but, you know, safe bet. Would make the story better, anyway. I’ve had broken ribs: probably the most painful injury I’ve had (and am no stranger to physical distress); because it hurts every time you breathe, and you’re not going to stop doing that.

    I’ve seen several interviews with Mr. Yeager, including one where he relates flying home after a mission over Germany, and being jumped by the Luftwaffe. He’d already been engaged, and his statement about the incident was “Come on, guys, I’ve had enough today”.

    Bet he and Neil will be trading stories. Clear skies, Mr. Yeager.

  • Garry: Stupid. I really am writing too much on autopilot, with my eyes not seeing what my fingers are typing. Post is fixed. Thank you.

  • Patrick Kelley

    I don’t read many books but I couldn’t put down his autobiography.
    Next to my father Chuck Yeager is my hero.

  • David Eastman

    I need to pull Yeager down from the bookshelf and read it again. He certainly did his share in service of our country and then some.

    I remember thinking the last time I read his bio that any officer that tried to do almost anything he described in his book now would be in search of a new career very quickly. Times have changed, and in that way, not for the better.

  • janyuary

    His book “Press On” is even better than “Yeager.” Press On has a quote that made me realize that I grew up with men a lot like Yeager, and not just because they had dangerous jobs requiring a spectrum of skills with little room for error. Yeager’s quote from Press On: “I’ve always said that the rules are made for people who aren’t willing to make up their own.” Amen, Chuck. Laws are fixed, made by God and nature; rules are mercurial, made by mere mortals, though men pretend they are “laws.”

    The very best quote I cannot find online and I didn’t mark it in the book where I found it, I believe it was “Yeager.” But it was to the effect (I paraphrase): “My legacy, I guess, is speed. But it doesn’t matter how fast you get from point A to point B, it’s what you do with time that counts.”

    Reading the Tote Goat story in “Press On” makes me laugh aloud every time. There’s going to be a lot of laughter and trading of tales in Heaven about now. Thanks Mr. Yeager for putting yourself on the line for my country and liberty.

  • LocalFluff

    I’ve heard that the first human to reach supersonic speed was a pilot launched vertically on the Ba 349 Natter in early 1945. The rocket interceptor aircraft disappeared up through the low clouds, and soon came back straight down. He did reach supersonic speed, on the way down, if he was still alive then. But I just found this recent and perhaps better informed video clip about the history of this “thing”. (Funny that the windshield was bullet proof, while the whole frame was made out of wood):

    I read a German guy in a history forum a decade or so ago, who posted photos claiming to have found the concrete foundation of the first vertical rocket launch of a human being, with the Ba 349, and had bought the real estate. Hoping that it will have a historic value added in the future.

    Me262 pilots have also claimed to have reached supersonic speed in 1944/45 while diving. With structural damages to the valuable aircraft and a scolding as a result.

    Not to take anything away from Chuck Yeager who did it in a relatively sane way, as far as sanity applies to these things, and more likely than not as the first. Only a pure heart is unafraid of death.

  • F16 Guy

    The pure unknown at the time of traveling faster than the speed of sound is what made him such a hero.
    For years I traveled faster than the speed of sound (F-16) and never thought twice about it. The sound barrier was not the only barrier Chuck Yeager broke.
    Speaking of “breaking,” and purely coincidentally, I slipped on some ice last Monday and cracked my 11th rib. Little did I know it would be a timely tribute to one of my greatest hero’s. (I’m already feeling much better !)

    For those who appreciate fighter pilots, a biography of John Boyd, “BOYD,” written by Robert Coram, is a great read about “the greatest fighter pilot in American history,” and one who “changed the art of war.”

  • Col Beausabre

    Claims prior to Yeager are bogus – because the air speed indicators of the time, based on static pressure, were not accurate in high speed dives, In particular, you have to be very careful with claims promulgated by wehraboos about the magical performance of Hitler era weapons. Bluntly, The Me262 couldn’t exceed Mach 1 going straight down with the engines firewalled – its aerodynamics wouldn’t let it.

    To expand a bit….

    “There I was at 40,000 feet,” the young Army Air Forces pilot begins—really—“in the AAF’s latest P-47N with a very specific purpose in mind, mischievous as it was.”

    Lieutenant Raymond Hurtienne’s purpose, it turns out, was to break the speed of sound in a propeller-driven aircraft, and he swears he did it, in the spring of 1945, in the skies above Long Island. “I rolled her over, pointed her straight down, retarded throttle, full left trim and full forward stick,” he wrote in a letter to a P-47 pilot’s association. “As the speed increased, control responses became more and more rigid. The airspeed indicator became stuck against the peg at 575 mph. Vapor trails were forming at both wingtips. The stick seemed like concrete. The altimeter was unwinding at a terrific rate. This was it: I had hit Mach 1. There wasn’t another plane in the skies that could touch me.”

    That sort of thing seriously griped Herbert O. Fisher, and mischief had nothing to do with it. Herb Fisher, who died last July at the age of 81, made a living diving Republic P-47 Thunderbolts to their absolute maximum controllable airspeed while he was a test pilot for Curtiss-Wright’s propeller division after World War II. He would have been the first to tell you that neither he nor anyone else ever put a World War II piston engine aircraft through the sound barrier. Or, as fellow test pilot Tony LeVier once put it, “Anyone who did ain’t here to tell about it.”

    . Fisher made over 100 high-speed descents from altitudes as high as 38,000 feet and achieved instrument-verified airspeeds of Mach .83 (about 600 mph at that altitude)—but no higher.

    “The first time I heard this sort of thing was an Air Force pilot who came out with publicity that he went Mach 1 in a Thunderbolt over Europe,” Fisher groaned. “There’s no way he could have gone Mach 1, but he still believes it. He’s still out there preaching it.”

    Immediately after World War II, Kelly Johnson, the legendary Lockheed Skunkworks engineer, built a six-foot-wingspan, 600-pound, solid-steel model of the Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star (later designated F-80) and had it dropped from a P-38 at altitudes close to 40,000 feet. “In a vertical dive,” he wrote in a letter to Fisher, “the model would not exceed a true airspeed of higher than Mach .94. With the full scale model of the Lockheed F-80A, these results were confirmed, and there was no recorded case where this jet fighter, clean as it was, could ever exceed Mach .9.”

    Leonard Greene, an engineer, ex-Grumman test pilot, and aviation entrepreneur who once developed important theories of high-speed aerodynamics at the Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey, rolls his eyes and looks even wearier than usual when the possibility of World War II-type aircraft exceeding Mach 1 is broached. “We don’t have enough thrust today to put onto any World War II aircraft and make it fly at supersonic speeds,” he says. “Besides, it would come apart first.”

    So were the P-47 pilots fibbing? Not at all, Fisher (and Johnson) explained. They were tricked by a simple phenomenon: airspeed indicators don’t function reliably in high-speed dives. The airplanes are falling so fast they can’t measure static air pressure quickly enough: while the instruments were down here, they were still measuring air from up there. Had neophyte Hurtienne’s indicator been accurate at an indicated 675 mph at 20,000 feet, for example, his true airspeed would indeed have been at least Mach 1.05 at typical temperatures. But it wasn’t. Because the airspeed calculation would have been based on an artificially high altitude reading, the airspeed indicator would show the airplane to be traveling faster than it really was.”

  • janyuary

    Col. Beau: FABULOUS, illuminating read.

  • LocalFluff

    @Col Beausabre
    This is an example where the comment is more enlightening than the blog post. Sorry, Bob :-) but you attract a knowledgeable audience, and me.

    But, Mr. Col, couldn’t the rocket plane Me 163 Komet have reached supersonic speed? I haven’t heard any claim that it did, but wouldn’t it have been the prime candidate during ww2? (Except for perhaps the failed test launches of the wooden Ba 349)

    Hanna Reitsch “Intoxicated by speed!” The German female counterpart of Chuck Yeager. Astrologically, something special must’ve happened in the Kuiper Belt when guys like this were born.

  • LocalFluff

    Running up to the battle of Guadalcanal, the US Navy fired their guns at night at their own ships, as target practice. Just offsetting their gun barrels by a couple of degrees.

    The world was, and is still, so impressed by how quickly the German army could defeat the substantial Polish army in 1939. Everyone except for the German general staff. They were terrified by the inefficiency of their soldiers and logistics. Reports told them that German soldiers were afraid of firing their rifles on the enemy, because they thought that they might fire back… “Our infantry is in a much worse shape now than in 1914” they concluded. So they ordered much harder discipline, and exercises with (deadly) live fire. Then they took France in a fortnight.

    Any soldier in battle appreciates having been trained in realistic circumstances.

  • janyuary

    Fluff, I am around very knowledgeable aviation types and historians who make their livings doing that. They would tell you, as Col. Beau did, that any claims of going faster than the speed of sound, including the Me262 (the only claim made I think in a non-prop plane), are bogus and for all the reasons he detailed.

    Also … what about reports of a sonic boom in all those cases claimed prior to Glamourous Glennis (Yeager’s plane)? Few if any would have witnessed breaking the speed of sound in a prop plane, but quite a few would have heard it.

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