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Saluting the Fastest Man Alive

Honoring ace pilot Brig. Gen. Charles “Chuck” Yeager

By Carly Ratliff

Photo: Then Capt. Charles “Chuck” Yeager (shown standing next to the Air Force's Bell-built X-1 supersonic research aircraft) became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound on Oct. 14, 1947. (U.S. Air Force photo).

We at Rare Car Network don’t often discuss flyboys, for obvious reasons, but the recent passing of Brig. Gen. Charles “Chuck” Yeager, aka the Fastest Man Alive, aged 97, could not be ignored.

West Virginia born and raised, Chuck was known in his youth as a natural gearhead and his father encouraged this trait by having teenage Chuck disassemble and reassemble Chevrolet engines. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1941 at the age of 18 and was quickly selected for pilot training.

After earning his wings in 1943, Chuck was sent to the European theater to begin flying in earnest. On Oct. 12, 1944, he earned ace status (five confirmed aerial victories) and is one of the few pilots to accomplish the feat in a single mission. By World War II’s end, Chuck had 12.5 confirmed aerial victories, flew 64 combat missions, racked up 270 hours of fly time and survived being shot down over France.

In 1946, Chuck entered a specialty test piloting school at Wright Field in Ohio. Although he was the most junior pilot at the school, Chuck was handpicked to test the rocket-propelled Bell X-1 in hopes of breaking the sound barrier; it was a feat many considered to be impossible.

Chuck accomplished the task on Oct. 14, 1947, when his Machmeter jumped off the scale as he piloted the Bell X-1 known as “Glamourous Glennis” on his ninth test run. Flying over Rogers Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert he hit Mach 1.06 (700 mph), less than 45 years after the first manned flight.

While Chuck’s feats were many, breaking the sound barrier is the one that had the greatest impact on the automotive world. Motorsports, especially land-speed racing, were never the same; Chuck demonstrated the possibilities of propulsion and kickstarted a race to break the sound barrier via land vehicle. But it would take another 50 years for every other gearhead and speed freak to catch up, and the land-speed record was not breached until Oct. 15, 1997.



Yeager: An Autobiography

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