Best Of The Web: When Yeager Wasn’t Famous


Famed test pilot Chuck Yeager was a household name through much of his career. But not always. In his first book, “Across the High Frontier,” Yeager said his work during the X-1 project to exceed Mach 1 gave flight test pilots a profile—and respect—they never enjoyed before that. In 1949, he became instantly famous when Time magazine put him on its cover. But, as this video from the popular television program “What’s My Line” shows, he was almost unknown again by the early 1960s, when the U.S. space program was gearing up and astronauts were the darlings of the press.

For context, the program aired in August of 1964 after Yeager had returned to Edwards Air Force Base to become the first commandant of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School, which is what the “What’s My Line” panel is questioning him about. The program aired about eight months after Yeager was injured when ejecting from the NF-104 research aircraft, as described in his own book and Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.” Here’s a video on that harrowing flight. Notably, he signed in as C.E. Yeager, rather than using his first name, which may or may not have tipped the panelists, especially Bennett Cerf, who was a publisher. By 1964, NASA’s Mercury program had concluded and Gemini and Apollo were in full swing.

Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” revived Yeager’s fame—permanently—because when researching test pilots, all roads eventually led to Yaeger. After a remarkable career, Gen. Yeager died on Dec. 7, 2020. He was 97.

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  1. If you have not read Chuck Yeager’s books, you should. Highly entertaining and full of very interesting details and exploits from WW II to retirement.

  2. This show predates me, but I’m amazed at the level of sophistication of the conversation among those panelists. It really shows how dumbed-down television programs have become.
    I have read Yeager’s autobiography and it’s an amazing book about a life lived to the hilt.