Yeager Leaves a Legacy of Speed

Chuck Yeager made his first flight above Mach 1 in the Bell X-1, and he went on to add substantially to the understanding of supersonic flight. USAF

Ask the average person on the street whom they would regard as the ultimate pilot, and you will typically get one of two answers: Charles Lindbergh and Chuck Yeager. The US Army Air Corps (and later US Air Force) pilot captured the world’s attention with his heroic feats, several of which advanced human in flight in ways that continue to affect aerospace development.

Charles E. Yeager died of natural causes on December 7, 2020, at age 97, with the news announced on Yeager’s Twitter account by his widow, Victoria Yeager. The aviation pioneer broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, and logged many supersonic flight milestones in his history-making career. The general public didn’t know of his achievement until the next year, when the information was declassified—and Yeager subsequently was awarded hero status.

But to pilots, his bravery and skill made the Mach 1 flight in the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis only one of his many contributions to aviation. A cadre of experimental test pilots who were his companions at Edwards Air Force Base alongside him as he spent the years following the famous flight further expanding the envelope, and proving what was possible as far as speed. He contributed to the redesign of the F-100A by testing the prototype YF-100 and determining its flight control deficiencies warranted such attention. He evaluated a Russian MiG 15 that had fallen into American hands—and on December 12, 1953, took the Bell X-1A to Mach 2.44 in the skies above Edwards. On that fateful flight, he encountered “inertia coupling,” which sent the rocket-powered airplane into violent roll and pitch motions after he cut the engine following the speed run at 76,000 ft. Yeager regained control at 25,000 ft—cementing his legacy as the world’s fastest pilot, and unquestionably one of the most skilled.

Flying has celebrated Yeager’s achievements in its pages for decades—most recently with a retrospective on his work upon the 65th anniversary of his first supersonic flight and as one of the 51 Heroes of Aviation from 2013.

Based in Maryland, Julie is an editor, aviation educator, and author. She holds an airline transport pilot certificate with Douglas DC-3 and CE510 (Citation Mustang) type ratings. She's a CFI/CFII since 1993, specializing in advanced aircraft and flight instructor development. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieinthesky.

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