R.I.P., Chuck Yeager

Chuck Yeager and Arthur Murray with the Bell X-1A.

Chuck Yeager has finally flown west. He was 97.

An airplane mechanic from West VirginIa who went on to become a fighter ace in World War II and retired as a brigadier general after 127 missions in Vietnam, he flew almost anything with wings, including the Bell X-1 that broke the speed of sound on Oct. 14, 1947.

Dad, whose Air Force nickname was O’Toole, was something of an autograph hound, and this was his biggest score. It reads: “To ‘Hank’ O’Grady (O’Toole). Best Regards and Good Luck, ‘Chuck’ Yeager.”

You may know him from “The Right Stuff,” first a book by Tom Wolfe and then a movie directed by Philip Kaufman.

We first heard about him from Dad, who likewise was a pilot at Muroc Army Air Base, later renamed Edwards AFB.

The family legend was that Dad was invited to join that famous test-pilots program at the Air Force Flight Test Center but that Mom forbade it, telling him something on the order of, “You can be a test pilot or you can marry me, but you can’t do both.”

The old man thought the world of Yeager, and we have a few pix of him, two of which you can see here. They’re both undated, but depict Yeager with the X-1A, the plane he flew to more than double the speed of sound in December 1953, just a few months before Harold Joseph O’Grady and his wife, Mary Jane, were to have a son name of Patrick Declan on the other side of the country.

Godspeed, General.

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22 Responses to “R.I.P., Chuck Yeager”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    Saw that last night. I guess he scrambled to fly west in time to intercept the ghosts of those Japanese pilots headed back to Pearl.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      The stones on this guy. Gets shot down and wants right back into the shit. Later he climbs into some pocket-protector Poindexter’s wet dream of supersonic flight and says, “OK, let’s take ’er for a spin around the block.”

      And the smarts, too.

      From the NYT obit:

      In his memoir, General Yeager wrote that through all his years as a pilot, he made sure to “learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment.”

      It may not have accorded with his image, but as he told it: “I was always afraid of dying. Always.”

      Oof. Me, I’ll do all my test piloting on the ground, on two wheels, thanks all the same.

  2. Charley Says:

    I remember reading about him throughout that time period. He was truly a hero.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Quite the blend of curiosity, competence, and confidence, hey? “I wonder where this thing will take me. Let’s find out. I bet I can get back.”

      I can’t imagine it myself. I don’t even like driving someone else’s car when I know for a fact that it works.

      Maybe JD can give us some idea of what it takes to climb into someone else’s aircraft and punch a hole in the sky.

      • JD Says:

        PO’G: You hit the nail on the head with curiosity, competence, and confidence. I’d add some rigorous training and reasoned acceptance of risk. All that said, it’s also fun, challenging (mentally and physically), demanding, and totally absorbing. There’s not much else on your mind when doing it.
        Sort of like riding some of the Duke City “natural” trails on a fully rigid bike when you’re over 60, eh?! 🙂
        Rubber side down; landings = takeoffs; stay safe, healthy, and sane!! 🙂

  3. khal spencer Says:

    Those were not just anyone else’s planes either. Those were test jobs, prototypes, designed to push the envelope. Lots of test pilots came back in pieces in those days. No pre-flight computer simulations, of design, etc. Slide rules, pencils, and send it up.

    Indeed, took a lot of courage and grit. I don’t even like riding someone else’s motorcycle.

    • JD Says:

      Spot on, Khal.
      Even today, with all the computer simulations and cosmic science/technology, eventually someone has to strap their butt to the machine and go see if it really does what has been predicted. If you ever get a chance to talk to an astronaut, ask them about the re-entry. “Shake, rattle, and roll, baby!”
      We’ve come a long way since the movie “Hidden Figures” time; nonetheless courage and a sense of adventure are still required.
      PS: Then I think about the Polynesians sailing the Pacific; the Norse adventuring out into the North Atlantic; Amelia Earhart; those who were the early Everest climbers, etc. Seems homo sapiens has always wanted to live life on the edge!!

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Yeah, I was thinking about the earlier explorers, too, like the Irish sailors who discovered America but kept quiet about it. (“O, ’tis a wretched place. Ye have to bring yeer own uisce beatha so.”)

      Meanwhile, further south, everyone be all like, “Yo, Queen, how ’bout a boat and some boys? There’s sumpin’ out there, I just know it.”

  4. Libby Says:

    Your father’s personal connection to Yeager and flying adds even more richness and depth to the amzing story of the 20th century.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      One of the many stories I’d like to know more about. Unfortunately, the old man wasn’t much of a talker, and Mom was something of a fabulist, so we’ll never know whether “O’Toole” and Chuck passed any time together at Pancho’s, shooting the breeze over a couple of cold ones.

      • khal spencer Says:

        My uncle Ralph ran around SE Asia and India with Gen. Raymond Wheeler. I wonder how much he was privy to, but whatever it was, he never, ever talked about the war. Other than having helped man the SE Asia Theatre Band. I think he considered himself lucky to be a general’s aide and leave getting shot at to someone else. Like his kid brother Roy who was over in France.

      • Libby Says:

        I know, I wish I knew more about my father’s WWII service. But, no talking. A few photos. Some lifelong friends from the service, too.

  5. khal spencer Says:

    No word on Mons? Nothing back this way.

  6. DownhillBill Says:

    Never saw Yeager fly, but I did see Bob Hoover at air shows a couple of times. Almost unbelievable! Hoover was Yeager’s backup pilot and would have been the one to break the sound barrier if Yeager had admitted to having broken ribs. Check out the Wikipedia entry, which IMO downplays the length & complexity of his air show routines.

    Also having just departed the stage: British mountaineer Doug Scott, who made the first ascent of Everest’s South West Face, spent a night in the open without oxygen 100 meters below that summit (without frostbite!), and famously crawled down the Ogre (7K meters+) with both ankles broken. Another look at Wikipedia is justified, if you’re not afraid of feeling inadequate. Again.

  7. carl duellman Says:

    i somehow had yeager’s autobiography in a pile of books at the house and i read it just to have something to read. i’m glad i picked it up. i was thoroughly impressed with the guy. i also learned that he had been friends with the first woman to break the sound barrier and that she grew up not far from where i live. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacqueline_Cochran

  8. Shawn Says:

    I always think of Yeager when I hear / read another report about the 737-Max jets. find it hard to believe that he would have been caught off guard by the anti-stall system.

    Hoover is another great pilot. Thank you for mentioning him Bill. I always love his stunt at the end of his routines – A loop, a barrel roll and a complete final to landing and roll out all under zero power. Oh yeah, and in a commuter prop plane.

    Sometimes I think I could be a worthy explorer, and then I read history. Here’s a unique one for you: Alexandra David Neal (sp?)

    • DownhillBill Says:

      There was also an Immelmann turn in Hoover’s “energy management routine”, and he finished by taxiing up to the grandstand. All done dead-stick (engine off) of course. He had a standing $0.50 bet with his announcer that he’d be able to pull it off.

      Thanks for the heads-up on A. David-Neal. Also amazing, more so to have pulled all that adventuring off at that time as a woman.

  9. Ron Hyberger Says:

    They will need two caskets for Chuck, one for him and one for his balls.

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