Sixty-five years after becoming the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager flew in the back seat Sunday of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000 feet above California's Mojave Desert
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Sixty-five years after becoming the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager flew in the back seat Sunday of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000 feet above California’s Mojave Desert — the same area where he first achieved the feat in 1947 while flying an experimental rocket plane.
The F-15 carrying Yeager, the 89-year-old whose story was featured in the movie “The Right Stuff,” took off from Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas and broke the sound barrier at 10:24 a.m. Sunday, exactly 65 years to the minute the then-Air Force test pilot made history.
Yeager’s flight heralded the dawn of the Space Age in a time of secrecy and Cold War with the Soviet Union, and blasted through the invisible wall of air some scientists feared would smash any airplane.
Asked by a young girl if he was scared during Sunday’s flight, Yeager joked, “Yeah, I was scared to death.” But the legendary pilot said he continues to fly all the time and it was just another flight to him.
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Yeager flew the F-15 as it took off and landed, said Airman Timothy Young, a Nellis spokesman. The plane was piloted by Capt. David Vincent of the 65th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis.
Yeager made the first supersonic flight in a rocket-powered, Bell X-1, known as the XS-1 for “experimental, supersonic,” attached to the belly of a B-29 aircraft.
Hiding the pain of broken ribs, Yeager squeezed into the aircraft with no safe way to bail out. Soon after the rocket plane was released, Yeager powered it upward to about 42,000 feet altitude, then leveled off and sped to 650 mph, or Mach 1.07.
On the California desert below, an aircraft’s sonic boom thundered for the first time.
From Oct. 14, 1947, the race was on to keep going faster until man hurled himself into space. The flight was kept a military secret until the following year, 1948.
He spent nearly a decade, in all, as the fastest man alive. After breaking the sound barrier, he later would go on to fly almost 2-½ times the speed of sound.
Yeager’s flight was portrayed in the opening scenes of “The Right Stuff,” the 1983 movie, based on the book by Tom Wolfe that chronicles America’s space race.