NPR's Science Friday book club takes to the skies with the Tom Wolfe classic The Right Stuff, a behind-the-curtain look at the 20th century’s most famous test pilots - including Chuck Yeager. Yeager joins the club to talk about his long career, and what he considers “the right stuff”.
'Charles Elwood "Chuck" Yeager (born February 13, 1923) is a retired major general in the United States Air Force and noted test pilot. He was the first pilot to travel faster than sound (1947). Originally retiring in 1975 as a brigadier general, Yeager was promoted to major general on the Air Force's retired list in 2005 for his military achievements.
'His career began in World War II as a private in the United States Army Air Forces. After serving as an aircraft mechanic, in September 1942 he entered enlisted pilot training and upon graduation was promoted to the rank of flight officer (the World War II USAAF equivalent to warrant officer) and became a North American P-51 Mustang fighter pilot.
'After the war he became a test pilot of many kinds of aircraft and rocket planes. Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the experimental Bell X-1 at Mach 1 at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13,700 m). Although Scott Crossfield was the first man to fly faster than Mach 2 in 1953, Yeager shortly thereafter set a new record of Mach 2.44.
'Yeager later commanded fighter squadrons and wings in Germany and in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and in recognition of the outstanding performance ratings of those units he then was promoted to brigadier general. Yeager's flying career spans more than 60 years and has taken him to every corner of the globe, including the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.
'Yeager's popularity soared in the 1980s, when he was prominently featured in Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff and in its 1983 movie adaptation, in which he was portrayed by Sam Shepard.' (SciFri podcast).