HomeNewsChuck Yeager, Pilot Who Broke Sound Barrier in 1947, Dies at 97

Chuck Yeager, Pilot Who Broke Sound Barrier in 1947, Dies at 97

by Caroline Bynum
Bettmann / Contributor for Getty Images

Chuck Yeager, a US Air Corps officer and American test pilot has died at 97. He was famous for breaking the sound barrier in 1947.

His second wife Victoria shared via Chuck Yeager’s official Twitter that “America’s greatest pilot” had passed away.

Chuck Yeager Breaks Sound Barrier, Stuns Nation

Many scientists and experts believed the sound barrier was impenetrable prior to Yeager’s feat in the Bell X-1. By breaking that barrier, he broke many metaphorical barriers and boundaries around education, determination, and age. At only 25-years-old, Chuck Yeager did what many Americans were positive was impossible.

Chuck Yeager only had a high school education, but during his time in the Air Corps, he quickly proved his impressive intelligence in flying. He once noted, “Because of my flying ability, they took mercy on my academics.”

Yeager’s website says his Colonel Albert Boyd chose the young pilot to fly the rocket-powered Bell X-1 due to his obvious talents. Boyd said of the decision, “I wanted a pilot capable of doing extremely precise, scientific flying. Above all, I wanted a pilot who was rock solid in stability. Yeager came up number one.” He adds that no other pilots in the program “could quite match his skill in a cockpit or his coolness under pressure.”

After many test runs and glide flights, he took advice from Captain Jack Ridley to change the flight’s angle of incidence by small increments in order to better control and elevate the aircraft. On October 14, 1947, he did just that as he took flight in the X-1. At 43,000 feet, he crossed the threshold, previously thought to be impossible: His flight reached a speed faster than the speed of sound.

He quickly became famous as “The Fastest Man Alive.”

Yeager’s Impact on America

“This is a sad day for America,” Yeager’s former ground crew chief, John Nicoletti, told CNN on Monday night, reflecting on the legendary pilot’s influence on the entire nation. He continues, sharing Yeager’s metaphorical impact, saying, “After he broke the sound barrier, we all now have permission to break barriers.”

Richard H. “Dick” Frost,  the Bell aircraft’s chief flight test engineer on the X-1 program, once noted his awe in Yeager’s dedication to learning. “What really set Chuck apart was his unquenchable thirst for knowledge”

His genuine impact and widespread admiration reach further than plane wings, though. Nearly everyone who had the privilege to interact with Yeager was stunned by his authenticity and respect towards all. ” I have never met a person that I admired and respected more than Chuck Yeager,” Colonel Jack Oliver once said.

Though Nicoletti summed up the legend’s national impact perfectly in his recent words to CNN. “General Yeager represents the best of us,” he says.

And even more moving, “Chuck Yeager will always be the sound of freedom.”

Let that sound ring on. The sound of determination and grit, the sound of hard work and respect, the sound of authenticity and American values. The sound of breaking barriers.