Chuck Yeager, the most famous test pilot of his generation, who was the first to break the sound barrier and, thanks to Tom Wolfe, came to personify the death-defying aviator who possessed the elusive yet unmistakable “right stuff,” died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 97.
General Yeager came out of the West Virginia hills with only a high school education and with a drawl that left many a fellow pilot bewildered. The first time he went up in a plane, he was sick to his stomach.
But he became a fighter ace in World War II, shooting down five German planes in a single day and 13 over all. In the decade that followed, he helped usher in the age of military jets and spaceflight. He flew more than 150 military aircraft, logging more than 10,000 hours in the air.