Chuck Yeager, the Legendary Pilot Who First Broke the Sound Barrier, Dies at 97

"An incredible life well lived, America's greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever," Yeager's wife Victoria wrote on the late pilot's Twitter account

Chuck Yeager
Chuck Yeager. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty

Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager, the first pilot ever to break the sound barrier, has died. He was 97.

The retired brigadier-general's wife, Victoria Yeager, confirmed the news of his death on Monday through the former World War II pilot's Twitter account, writing, "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," she continued.

In addition to breaking the sound barrier on October 14, 1947 while flying the Bell X-1 as a test pilot, Chuck shot down more than 11 aircraft as a P-51 pilot on the Western Front in World War II.

Chuck, whose career as a test pilot was chronicled in the book and eponymous movie, The Right Stuff, was born in Myra, West Virginia February 13, 1923.

Chuck Yeager
Chuck Yeager. David Madison/Getty

After graduating high school, Chuck enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Forces and discovered his passion for planes while working as an aircraft mechanic.

With the outbreak of WWII, he transitioned into being a pilot which was helped in part by the fact he had unusually good vision. Chuck went on to become a successful war pilot.

After the war ended, he stayed with the airforce and continued his career as a test pilot which saw him help usher America into the supersonic age that day in 1947 when he flew across the Californian desert at nearly 700 mph.

The plane that he famously broke the sound barrier with was named for his first wife, Glennis, with the Bell X-1 known as the "Glamorous Glennis".

Chuck Yeager
Chuck Yeager. US Air Force/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

The man with the "right stuff" achieved his record-breaking feat despite secretly having broken two ribs during what he dubbed a "disagreement" with a horse.

In a significant amount of pain and unable to even close the cockpit's hatch without the use of a broomstick, Chuck remained determined to achieve his mission.

"I'd had a bad night's sleep – from the pain in my side, but also from the indecision about whether or not to fly the mission incapacitated," the pilot wrote in a 1987 essay for Popular Mechanics. "Tossing and turning, I decided to make up my mind in the air. If it became physically impossible to climb into the X-1, then I'd scrub the mission. If I could get into the pilot's seat, I knew I could fly."

RELATED VIDEO: Oscar-Nominated Actor Sam Shepard Dead at Age 73

Despite the no doubt painful twisting and contorting needed to get inside the tiny space, Chuck made it in and changed aviation history.

"I had flown at supersonic speeds for 18 seconds. There was no buffet, no jolt, no shock. Above all, no brick wall to smash into. I was alive," Chuck wrote of the moment he burst through the sound barrier.

The accomplished airman also later trained others who would go on to join NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs, however, he never had the opportunity to go to space himself.

Chuck is survived by his wife Victoria, and three of his four children Susan, Don and Sharon, whom he had with his first wife Glennis, who died of cancer in 1990. His son Mickey died in 2011.

Related Articles