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50 years later, Yeager proves he still has 'the right stuff'


Re-enacts first breaking of sound barrier

October 14, 1997
Web posted at: 2:49 p.m. EDT (1849 GMT)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, California (CNN) -- These days, spacecraft and supersonic airplanes routinely break the sound barrier -- that is, travel faster than sound can. But 50 years ago, when a young pilot named Chuck Yeager was attempting to become the first to do it, many experts feared that the sound barrier was an impenetrable wall that would destroy his plane.

Those experts were wrong. Yeager broke the barrier and survived. To mark the anniversary on Tuesday, Yeager, now 74, re-enacted his history-making flight.

What was it like to break the sound barrier in 1947?
Chuck Yeager describes it.
icon 306 K/27 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier...again
icon 6 min. 30 sec. VXtreme video

A fighter pilot during World War II, the West Virginia native was a test pilot during the early postwar years.

Yeager in 1947

Yeager broke the sound barrier -- "Mach 1," as it's called -- in the X-1, an experimental jet little more than a rocket with wings.

For Tuesday's recreation, the retired air force general will be at the controls of a modern F-15 fighter jet.

Yeager has broken the sound barrier more times than he can remember since October 14, 1947 when, with two broken ribs, he climbed into the jet, named Glamorous Glennis after his beloved wife.

Not bad for someone whose first ride in an airplane proved memorable for a different reason.

"After about 30 minutes I puked all over my airplane. I said to my self, 'Man, you made a big mistake,'" he recalled.

Yeager is salty, argumentative, stubborn and often politically incorrect.

But, he's a hero nonetheless because, despite the odds against him, he truly did go where no man had gone before. And, he's still around to do it all again.

Correspondent Charles Feldman contributed to this report.


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