A BREAK FROM POLITICS - CHUCK YEAGER PIONEER OF THE RIGHT STUFF AND GLAMOROUS GLENNIS - THE SUNDAY COMMENTARY
So breaking from politics this posting commemorates in tribute a true American hero who was the pioneer of the, "The Right Stuff, " and a history changing achievement that took place sixty years ago on October 14, 1947.
The American hero is General Chuck Yeager and the event that changed history is the flight aboard the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis that Yeager named after his wife and the breaking of the sound barrier. Today with the advent and tremendous advances in fighter jet technology breaking the sound barrier is an almost routine action that every fighter jock preforms every time he/she gets into the cockpit. But in 1947 it was not only the most dangerous flying feat of the time but had cost the life of nearly every pilot who had attempted it prior to Yeager.
Jet flight was still in its infancy in 1947 and the technology and protection for the pilot in the cockpit was likewise new and almost primitive compared to today's standards. The air that flew beyond Mach 1, (the speed of sound), or 761.2 mph was as much a mystery in 1947 as the composition of a black hole is today. In fact many believed that the sound barrier was a demon that was not meant to or could be broken. Jets approaching the sound barrier in this infancy of jet flight would experience tremendous vibration and even lose stability causing the pilot to become disoriented which resulted in a catastrophic crash.
Despite all of this knowledge of past flights and the dangers it proposed then Captain Chuck Yeager when finally approached by the Air Force and the people from Bell laboratories readily agreed to attempt the dangerous flight. And on October 14, 1947 Chuck Yeager became the falsest man alive and the first to exceed Mach 1 breaking the sound barrier.
Chuck Yeager was born and Myra, West Virginia in 1923. He entered the Army Air Forces in September 1941. During WWII Yeager became well known in military circles as an ace of aces. In fact during one engagement Yeager downed 5 German fighters in one day in one mission. Yeager was also one of only a few U.S. fighter pilots to down a German Jet Fighter toward the end of the war. Yeager was shot down on March 5, 1944 and evaded capture for 25 days until he crossed the border with Spain and contacted the resistance, returning to England in May of 1944.
After the war Yeager was assigned to Muroc Army Air Field, (later named Edwards Air Force Base), where he became a test pilot. It was there that he was asked by Bell to fly the X -1 breaking the sound barrier. Two days before his historic flight Yeager was in a horseback accident in which he broke two ribs. On the day of the flight he was in such pain that he could not reach with his right hand to secure the cockpit door of the X -1.
Afraid that someone else would be given the flight and break the sound barrier for the first time, Yeager confided in his friend Jack Ridley about his injuries and dilemma. Ridley borrowed the broom of a janitor, cutting the end off the broom handle providing Yeager with a lever to seal the hatch with his left hand. Yeager boarded the B-29 Stratofortress Bomber carrying the X-1 under its bomb bay. From there he boarded the X-1 which was dropped from the belly of the B-29 and the rest is history.
Yeager in an interview described the moment the sound barrier was broken, "Suddenly the Mach needle began to fluctuate. It went up to .965 Mach—then it tipped right off the scale. I thought I was seeing things! We were flying supersonic! And it was as smooth as a baby's bottom: Grandma could be sitting up there sipping lemonade."
After Yeager's history making flight many met and exceeded Mach 1. Yet during his time as a test pilot every time someone would top his previous speed record, Yeager would climb into the cockpit once again and reclaim the title , "Fastest Man Alive." On one such occasion when Yeager was attempting flight into the stratosphere, his experimental plane lost all power and plunged more than 100, 000 feet to crash on the high desert floor.
Yeager ejected but the explosive bolts that jettison a pilot from the craft caught his flight suit on fire melting his helmet visor to his face. He succeeded in forcing the helmet off while parachuting to the ground but wind currents took him well outside the Edwards area. Yeager realized he was well away from where fire crews would search for him and though badly burned walked to the rescue sight.
His smooth West Virginia drawl and easy going demeanor in the cockpit inspired every pilot whether military or commercial and all air traffic control operators to adopt that same easy tone while talking in the mic. In fact pilots and air traffic control operators are taught the Yeager drawl during training.
On September 21, 2007 eighty four year old retired General Chuck Yeager commemorated his historic flight , the 60th Anniversary of the Air Force and his own 65 Anniversary as a pilot by climbing once again into the cockpit, this time an F-15, taking to the skies, kicking in the afterburners and once again breaking the sound barrier proving that this American hero still has, "The Right Stuff!"