US test pilot Chuck Yeager, the first person to break the sound barrier, has died aged 97, his wife says. In a tweet, Victoria Yeager wrote: “It is w/ profound sorrow, I must tell you that my life love General Chuck Yeager passed just before 9pm ET”.
Yeager went into the history books after his flight in the Bell X-1 experimental rocket plane in 1947, e later broke several other speed and altitude records, helping to pave the way for the US space programme. “An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever,” his wife wrote on Monday. She provided no further details. On 14 October 1947, Yeager’s plane – nicknamed Glamorous Glennis, in honour of his first wife – was dropped from the bomb bay of a B-29 aircraft above the Mojave Desert in the south-western US. Yeager, who was at the time just 24, reached the speed of more than Mach 1 (1,225km/h; 767mph) at 45,000ft (13,700m).
It was a feat of considerable courage, as nobody was certain at the time whether an aircraft could survive the shockwaves of a sonic boom, the public was only told about the mission in June 1948. Yeager’s success was later immortalized in the Tom Wolfe book The Right Stuff, and a subsequent film of the same name. From his early years as a fighter ace in World War II to the last time he broke the sound barrier in 2012 – at the age of 89 – Chuck Yeager became the most decorated US pilot ever. The airport that serves Charleston, West Virginia, is named after Chuck Yeager.