Chuck Yeager

The spectacular crash of a SpaceX experimental rocket on Wednesday got me thinking about how far we have come.

The Starship will one day take people into space. The launch was great. It was the landing that wasn’t.

CNN reports this was not unexpected. Elon Musk calls it a success because of all the data SpaceX acquired. Don’t you just love Elon Musk?

On same day, Vice-President Mike Pence was in Florida to rename two military bases. Patrick Air Force Base is now Patrick Space Force Base. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station will now be known as Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The future is here. The U.S. Space Force. The sixth branch of the U.S. Military.

This all happens in the same week that we remember a pioneer in aviation, General Chuck Yeager, who died this week at 97.

For those that may not know, Chuck Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier. On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager climbed out of B-29 Bomber and into the cockpit of an experimental aircraft above the Mojave Desert in California. It was then that Yeager and the X-1 did something no one had ever done.

Forty three thousand miles above the earth, the sound barrier was broken. On the ground, they heard the first sonic boom. Chuck Yeager had just flown 700 miles an hour and didn’t die. The X-1 didn’t break apart.

History was made.

Chuck Yeager wrote about it in his book, “Yeager.”

“It was a letdown,” he said. “There should have been a bump in the road, something to let you know you had just punched a nice clean hole through the sound barrier.”

Oh, there was a bump, General Yeager. Your flight changed history.

I met and interviewed Chuck Yeager several years ago. I remember walking toward him and feeling my knees shaking. Brigadier General Chuck Yeager! My hero! He couldn’t have been nicer. He was all I wanted him to be.

I’m always asked about my favorite interview. I never have an answer. Next time, I gotta remember it was Chuck Yeager.

The New York Times’ Richard Goldstein writes a lovely piece about Yeager. He had humble beginnings in the hills of Virginia. During his first time in a plane, he got sick to his stomach. But Yeager got over it. He became a decorated fighter pilot in World War Two.

Chuck Yeager flew in Korea and Vietnam. He continued to be a test pilot. So, why wasn’t he an astronaut? Part of the reason was his education. Chuck Yeager only had a high school education. Also, I don’t think he really wanted to go to space. Those early Mercury astronauts didn’t really fly anything. They just went up and down.

Chuck Yeager was a pilot. He needed control.

With that said, Chuck Yeager was a big part of Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.” That wonderful book about the pilots and astronauts of the Mercury space program.

Wolfe writes of Yeager: “The most righteous possessors of the right stuff.”

In his book, Chuck Yeager wrote that through all his years as a pilot, he made sure to learn everything about his airplane. He said, “I was always afraid of dying. Always.”

General Chuck Yeager was in every sense of the word a hero. Astronaut Mark Kelly called him a “true legend.”He had the right stuff… and then some.

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