US Air Force figure Chuck Yeager is dead

Chuck Yeager's US Air Force photograph taken in 1947.

An aviation legend has just died: US Air Force (USAF) Brigadier General Charles “Chuck” Yeager, died in Los Angeles (California), Monday, December 7, at the age of 97 . Heroes of the Second World War, this exceptional fighter pilot was the first man to officially cross the sound barrier, on October 14, 1947, aboard the Bell X-1. An exploit which earned him the admiration of his peers, civilians and soldiers, for whom he was his life during a model, popularized some thirty years later by the writer Tom Wolfe in the best-selling book The stuff of heroes (The Right Stuff, 1979), then in the eponymous 1983 film by director Philip Kaufman, in which his role was played by actor Sam Shepard.

Nothing predestined Charles Elwood Yeager to become a fighter pilot. Nor his roots in the heart of the Appalachians, shared between the small hamlet of Myra (West Virginia), where he was born on February 13, 1923, and the town of Hamlin (400 inhabitants), a few kilometers downstream, where his parents and their four children move when he is 5 years old. Life in this mountainous region revolves around agriculture, the exploitation of forests and that, mining, of the subsoil. An ideal environment for his father who excelled at repairing machines linked to these activities.

This know-how, the young Yeager imbibes it very early on, and soon surpasses the master, when he is not hunting or fishing with his grandfather. As for studies, apart from geometry, they hardly fascinate him. It is therefore quite natural that in the summer of 1941, when high school was completed, he enlisted in the Air Force. Not to become a pilot, but to be an aeronautical mechanic, a profession where his qualities are immediately noticed. The opportunity is then offered to him to fly in the company of a pilot who lands on the bottom of dry lakes, but the experience does not please the young corporal.

One of the aces of his unit

However, it is this path that he will follow in December 1941, with the entry into the war of the United States. Because the country is in dire need of pilots, the rules for recruiting candidates for the Flying Sergeant Program have just been changed. No need now to have a university background to claim to become a pilot. At 18, willpower and a little skill are enough. Chuck Yeager tries his luck and, in December 1942, is accepted. He then amazes his instructors so much with his ability to concentrate, to manage stress, to see beyond everyone else and to pilot instinctively that he won his “wings” four months later.

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