6 Facts About Chuck Yeager That Prove He Always Had 'The Right Stuff'

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(U.S. Air Force)

A giant of Air Force history passed away on Dec. 7, 2020. Legendary Air Force officer, test pilot and flying ace Charles Elwood "Chuck" Yeager died in a Los Angeles hospital at age 97.

Yeager was famously the first pilot to break the sound barrier in level flight aboard a rocket-powered Bell X-1 named "Glamorous Glennis." While it may not seem so brave and impressive today, when F-16 Fighting Falcons can accidentally break the sound barrier on test flights, things were different in the 1940s.

No one was quite sure what would happen to the human body at the speed of sound. Yeager proved that it apparently made you 10 times cooler than the average human.

Yeager even had a cameo in the "Right Stuff," alongside Sam Shepard, who played Chuck Yeager in the movie. (Warner Bros.)

Here are a few more things to know about the departed Air Force pioneer.

1. Yeager didn't have the best start in the military.

Today, when we think of fighter pilots, test pilots and aces, we think of academy-educated air warriors from privileged families who were destined to take to the skies. That wasn't Yeager.

He enlisted in the Army Air Forces as a private in September 1941, before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and became an aircraft mechanic. In a move that would be unthinkable today, the high-school educated Yeager was sent to the USAAF "Flying Sergeant Program," after the U.S. entered World War II.

2. He scored 11.5 air combat victories.

After earning the rank of flight officer, Yeager took to the skies in Europe, earning "ace" status, meaning he scored five or more wins in the air. Yeager took that a step further, becoming an "ace in a day" -- scoring five wins in a 24-hour period.

Two of his "ace in a day" victories came when he flew into position behind a Nazi Messerschmitt Bf-109. The enemy pilot flipped out and crashed into his own wingman. Yeager didn't fire a shot. HIs half-victory came when he was assisted by a fellow pilot. He also downed a Messerschmitt Me-262, one of the first jet engine aircraft, from his propeller-driven P-51 Mustang.

3. He was helped by the French Resistance.

No one's perfect, and that applies to Chuck Yeager too. On his eighth mission, in March 1944, Yeager's plane was shot down over occupied France. He bailed out and, with the help of the French Resistance, made it to Spain and back to the cockpit.

He was the only so-called "evader" who received help from the French Resistance and returned to the skies after returning home. Military officials were concerned a captured pilot would reveal details about the resistance and its members. But Yeager complained all the way to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who allowed him to return.

4. Yeager flew the first captured enemy MiG-15.

During the Korean War, the MiG-15 proved a dangerous threat to American bombing missions over North Korea. In "MiG Alley" -- where the Yalu River empties into the Yellow Sea -- American and Communist fighters squared off in deadly dogfights. Until the development of the F-86 Sabre, the MiG was a serious threat

The United States offered Communist pilots ample reward along with asylum if they flew a MiG-15 to an American airfield. One North Korean pilot did just that. When it was taken to Okinawa to see what it could do, one of the two test pilots who put it through its courses was then-Maj. Chuck Yeager.

5. He also flew missions in the Vietnam War.

By the time the Vietnam War rolled around, Yeager was a full-bird colonel and was deployed to Southeast Asia. Flying from the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing, he led F-100D Super Sabres in 127 air missions in South Vietnam.

6. He really did break both ribs before his famous flight.

In the 1983 film "The Right Stuff," Yeager is depicted falling from a horse while riding with his wife. In the film, he breaks two ribs and injures his arm. These injuries keep him from being able to close the canopy of his Bell X-1.

That really happened. He told fellow test pilot Jack Ridley about his trouble, who helped him smuggle a broom handle into the cockpit to secure the jet's canopy. He broke the sound barrier that same day.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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