Chuck Yeager, the U.S. military pilot who became the first person to break the sound barrier in 1947, has died at the age of 97.
His death was announced late Monday night on his official Twitter page by his second wife, Victoria. “An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever,” she wrote.
Yeager and his orange, bullet-shaped Bell Aircraft X-1 -- which he dubbed “Glamorous Glennis” after his first wife -- was carried into the sky on October 14, 1947 attached to a B-29 bomber over California’s Mojave Desert. Yeager fired the plane’s liquid oxygen-fueled rocket engine after it was released by the B-29 and eventually reached the speed of 1,100 kilometers per hour, or Mach 1.
The historic flight proved that aircraft could survive at supersonic speed, and laid the foundation for aviation’s next step into supersonic flight, military jets and manned spaceflight.
The West Virginia-born Yeager began his aviation career in 1941 at age 18, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the U.S. Air Force, as a mechanic. He would go on to shoot down 13 German planes over 64 missions as a combat pilot in the European theater during World War Two.
Yeager broke the sound barrier while assigned as a test pilot at what eventually became Edwards Air Force Base in California. His exploits were immortalized in the best-selling book The Right Stuff by journalist Tom Wolfe, which explored the early days of the U.S. space program.
Yeager would go on to run a program at Edwards Air Force Base that trained Air Force pilots as prospective astronauts, and later flew dozens of combat missions during the Vietnam War.