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Chuck Yeager, test pilot who smashed the sound barrier, dead at 97

He enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from high school in September 1941, becoming an aircraft mechanic. One day he took a tour with a maintenance worker to flight test an airplane he had serviced and quickly threw up in the back seat. But he joined a flight program for enlisted men in July 1942, believing it would take him out of the details of the kitchen and guard. He received his pilot wings and his appointment as a flight officer in March 1943 while at a base in Arizona, and was appointed second lieutenant after arriving in England for training.

He possessed natural coordination and an ability to understand the mechanical system of an airplane as well as cool under pressure. He loved pirouettes and dives and loved organizing mock air fights with his fellow trainees.

He was flying P-51 Mustang fighters in the European theater during World War II, and in March 1944, on its eighth mission, it was shot down over France by a German fighter plane and parachuted into the woods with wounds to the leg and the head. But he was hidden by members of the French underground, traveled to neutral Spain by scaling the snow-capped Pyrenees, carrying a badly injured aircraft with him, and returned to his base in England.

Downed pilots are usually not returned to combat, but his calls to action again are granted. On October 12, 1944, leading three squadrons of fighter jets escorting bombers over Bremen, he shot down five German planes, becoming an ace in one day. In November, it shot down four more planes in one day.

After the war, Yeager was posted to Muroc Army Air Base in California, where prominent pilots tested prototype jets. He was chosen from more experienced pilots to fly the Bell X-1 on a quest to break the sound barrier, and when he decided to do so, he could barely move, having broken two ribs a few nights. earlier when he crashed into a fence while racing with his wife on horseback in the desert.

The Air Force kept the feat a secret, a consequence of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, but in December 1947 Aviation Week magazine revealed that the sound barrier had been broken and the Army of the air finally recognized him in June 1948.

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