How did Chuck Yeager die? A look at the life of the first pilot to break the sound barrier

Yeager gained worldwide recognition after his success was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's best-selling book 'The Right Stuff'

                            How did Chuck Yeager die? A look at the life of the first pilot to break the sound barrier
Chuck Yeager (Getty Images)

US test pilot Chuck Yeager, the first person to break the sound barrier, has died aged 97, according to his wife Victoria Yeager who tweeted, "It is w/ profound sorrow, I must tell you that my life love General Chuck Yeager passed just before 9 pm ET. An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever."

Yeager made history after his flight in the Bell X-1 experimental rocket plane in 1947. The pilot broke several speed and altitude records and helped pave the way for the US space programme. No other details about his death were provided. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, called the death "a tremendous loss to our nation."


Yeager entered the record books on October 14, 1947 after he flew his plane, nicknamed Glamorous Glennis in honor of his first wife, over the Mojave Desert in the south-western US. Yeager was only 24-years-old at the time of this flight. He reached the speed of more than Mach 1 (1,225km/h; 767mph) at 45,000ft (13,700m). Yeager's achievement was an incredible feat as nobody was certain at the time whether an aircraft could survive the shockwaves of a sonic boom. The public was only informed about the mission in June 1948. Yeager flew for more than 60 years, including piloting an X-15 to near 1,000 mph at Edwards in October 2002 at age 79, reports Politico.

Yeager's career began in 1941 during the World War II as a private in the US Army Air Forces. After serving as an aircraft mechanic, he enlisted for pilot training and, upon graduation, was promoted to the rank of flight officer. He achieved most of his aerial victories as a P-51 fighter pilot on the Western Front. After the war, he became a test pilot of many types of aircraft including the experimental rocket-powered aircraft. Yeager later commanded fighter squadrons and wings in Germany, as well as in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. In recognition of the outstanding performance ratings of those units, he was promoted to brigadier general in 1969. His three-war active-duty flying career spanned more than 30 years and took him to many parts of the world, including the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.

Chuck Yeager and Barbara Hershey attend a special 20th Anniversary screening and DVD release of 'The Right Stuff' (Getty Images)

Yeager was born February 23, 1923, in Myra, about 40 miles southwest of Charleston. His family later moved to Hamlin, the county seat. His father was an oil and gas driller and a farmer. Yeager's success was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's best-selling book 'The Right Stuff'. The book was adapted into a subsequent film of the same name starring Sam Shepard as Yeager. The movie received widespread critical acclaim and eight Oscar nominations at the 56th Academy Awards, four of which it won.

Yeager's awards and honors included being inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, arguably aviation's highest honor, in 1973. He also received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement and, in 1975, the US Congress awarded Yeager a silver medal "equivalent to a noncombat Medal of Honor for contributing immeasurably to aerospace science by risking his life in piloting the X-1 research airplane faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947." 

In 2000, Yeager met actress Victoria Scott D'Angelo on a hiking trail and the pair started dating shortly thereafter. They married in 2003.