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US Air Force legend & first pilot to break sound barrier, Chuck Yeager, dies at 97

Air Force General Chuck Yeager, known as ‘America’s greatest pilot’ and the first man to exceed the speed of sound in flight, has passed away at age 97, as announced by his wife Victoria.

“It is with profound sorrow, I must tell you that my life love General Chuck Yeager passed just before 9pm ET,” Yeager’s wife said in a tweet on the famed brigadier general’s Twitter page on Monday night. 

An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever.

A career combat ace through World War II, Yeager began his time in the service as a humble mechanic, worked his way up to enlisted pilot training and was eventually promoted to flight officer. As a P-15 Mustang fighter pilot, he shot down more than 11 enemy craft over the Western Front.

After VE Day, Yeager went on to test pilot a variety of new craft at the Muroc Army Air Field (now known as Edwards Air Base) in California, becoming the first person to fly at supersonic speeds during a trial of the Bell X-1 – then an experimental rocket-powered aircraft – in October 1947. For that feat, he was awarded the air force’s Mackay Trophy for “most meritorious flight of the year,” as well as the Robert J. Collier Trophy, given to those who make major strides in the field of aeronautics.

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Becoming a full colonel by 1962, Yeager was appointed as the first commandant of the air force’s Aerospace Research Pilot School, which churned out astronaut candidates for NASA, but before long was back to battle. He took command of the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing at an airbase in the Philippines during the US conflict in Vietnam, racking up hundreds of hours of combat time and some 127 missions.

Following 33 years of active duty, Yeager retired in March 1975 at the rank of brigadier general, though he continued to serve as a consultant for the air force and NASA well after his military career formally ended. He was among the most highly decorated pilots in US history, garnering countless awards, trophies, and commendations during his decades in the service.

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