Chuck Yeager Dead At 97


Legendary test pilot and World War II fighter ace Gen. Charles E. Yeager died Monday night, according to a tweet released by his wife Victoria. He was 97. “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,” Mrs. Yaeger said in a tweet Monday evening just after her husband’s death.

Born in the small town of Myra, West Virginia, in 1923, he later lived in nearby Hamlin. After graduating from high school in 1941, Yeager joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and after initial training as a maintenance specialist, he was accepted for pilot training. Training in California, Yeager flew the P-39 Airacobra and later transitioned to the P-51 Mustang. He joined a P-51 squadron in England after having been stationed there in November 1943. After scoring one victory, he was shot down over France in March 1944, but escaped through Spain to return to England. Although so-called evadees were prohibited from further combat flying, Yeager pleaded his case to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower who approved his return to combat. Yaeger flew more P-51 missions just after D-day, eventually downing 13 German aircraft, including five in a single day in October 1944.

After World War II, thanks to his high number of flight hours and mechanical background, Yeager was assigned to what was then the test and evaluation command at Wright Patterson field. That posting led him to become the project pilot on the X-1 program, the first rocket-powered research aircraft specifically designed by Bell Aircraft to reach and exceed Mach 1. In an achievement that later made him a household name, Yeager flew the X-1 to Mach 1.05 on Oct. 14, 1947. He was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1948 for his flight, along with Larry Bell and John Stack of NACA.

Yeager continued his work in flight test, flying a succession of high-performance, high-altitude research aircraft. In 1962, he became the first commandant of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. He also commanded several fighter squadrons, including a B-57 group with combat service in Vietnam and after promotion to brigadier general in 1969, he was vice-commander of the 17th Air Force. He retired in 1975. After retirement, he was active in general aviation and was a frequent visitor to AirVenture at Oshkosh.

The cause of death was not reported by the family. AVweb will update the story as more information becomes available.

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  1. RIP General Yeager. Reading his book was an inspiration to me both as a private pilot and a person. I was especially impressed with his admission that he was always afraid of dying in the airplanes he flew, and that’s why he learned as much as he could about each one. That a man who seemed to have no fear at all admitted that he had fears, but used them to become a better pilot was a revelation to my young self. I was also very impressed to learn of all his exploits before and after the sound barrier. His was truly a life well lived.

  2. “So-called evadees were prohibited from flying further combat” That is a story I have not heard before. Would anyone be able to fill in the background on that for us? 😊

    • I don’t remember how he talked his superiors into letting him fight in Europe after being shot down. I believe the concern was to protect the underground. His first hand knowledge of the underground could be compromised if he were to be captured again. Details are in his book.

      • That’s correct.

        But Yaeger wanted to return to combat and he and another pilot bumped it all the way to Eisenhower, who relented because by then the invasion was already underway and the compromise in security was considered less critical.

  3. I designed and did the displays for a museum in Owatonna, MN. We have 3 T-38s outside in a “vertical bomb burst” formation. One day, an old man was looking at them–when he came inside, I asked him if he was going to go in. “How much”, he asked. “Nothing–if you will sign your display I have inside.” “Recognized me, did ‘ya?”

    I found the owner of the museum and told him I had Chuck Yeager outside–he didn’t believe me. We spent the next two hours touring the museum–looking at all of the displays and text I wrote–looking at the suspended airplanes. I showed him the point to point US and International speed record diplomas we had accomplished. He replied with a classic “I got me some speed records!” (laugh) Not only first supersonic, but late in life, set records in the Cheyenne IV. He also mentioned that he had never owned an airplane–“There is always someone that wants something done, so I have access to those. I DO have a legal ultralight, though–fun to fly!”

    There are those that say that he didn’t wear his fame well–that he was brusque. That can be true–celebrities are often besieged by those who feel the person “owes” them an audience. My two hours with him in an aviation and adventure museum was just the opposite–he talked quite freely–pilot to pilot–not as a “celebrity.” Yeager met life on his own terms–a fitting epitaph for the way he actually lived it.

    • That’s amazing! I grew up in St. Paul and went to school in Iowa, so I drove by that T-38 formation many times. Great story about a great man.

  4. A Great American that grew up an unparalleled era of aviation advancements. Rising to the opportunity of a monumental flying achievement using his pragmatic and old school ways. Never turning away from a challenge and always possessing the vision to put himself in a position to be a part of something significant and meaningful.. His legacy is timeless..!

  5. Three names were responsible for pointing this scrawny kid from South Ozone Park (NY) into a flying career: Idlewild Airport, Lockheed Constellation … and Charles Yeager.

  6. In my library I have a 1979 copy of “The Right Stuff” which I read when it was first published. Interestingly, I finished “The Wrong Stuff” by LTC Truman J Smith published in 1996 today. They are a contrast in style and worth having on your shelf if you enjoy and admire the aviators of that era. I think the audience here can glean some insight into what it was like to be a 20 year old B-17 pilot with the 8th Air Force.