Chuck Yeager: Lessons in Manliness From a Great Man

On September 13, 1947, a 22-year old Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier in level flight with his Bell XS-1 rocket plane. He is credited with inventing many technical innovations that are still used today.

The “chuck yeager call sign” is a biography of Chuck Yeager. The book is about the lessons in manliness from a great man.

“The world was split between those who had it and those who did not in this brotherhood…” However, this feature, this thing, was never identified or discussed in any manner. As for what this intangible characteristic was… well, it clearly entailed courage. But it wasn’t courage in the traditional sense of being willing to put your life on the line. The implication appeared to be that any knucklehead could do it… No, the idea here (in the enclosing fraternity) seemed to be that a man should be able to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line, and then have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness, to pull it back in the last yawning moment-and then to go up the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and every next day, even if the series should be infinite- There wasn’t even a test to see whether a pilot possessed this virtuous attribute. Instead, there was a seemingly endless succession of exams. Climbing one of those ancient Babylonian pyramids made up of a dizzying progression of steps and ledges, a ziggurat, a pyramid extraordinarily high and steep; and the idea was to prove at every foot of the way up that pyramid that you were one of the elected and anointed ones who had the right stuff and could move higher and higher and even-ultimately, God willing, one day-that you might be able to join that special few at the very top, —The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe

Chuck Yeager, the “most righteous of all the possessors of the right thing,” according to Tom Wolfe, was the “most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff.”

However, Yeager was not fond of the term. It signaled to him that a man’s ability in the cockpit was a question of chance—either you were born with it or you weren’t.

Chuck, on the other hand, knew better. He didn’t dismiss the importance of luck in a pilot’s career, but he recognized, probably more than any other pilot at the time, that the “right stuff” was earned via hard effort, dedication, and experience. It wasn’t some intangible characteristic that propelled him from buck private to brigadier general, or that enabled him to log 10,000 flying hours in 180 different planes, or that enabled him to break the sound barrier. No, it was his tenacity and enthusiasm for flying, his insatiable drive to know all there was to know about his plane “down to the tiniest bolt.”

There are several levels of manliness. There is a quiet and subtle manliness that you eventually come to appreciate as you spend year after year with a man. Then there’s the type of manliness that strikes you like a 2X4 in the face. From 40 yards away, it knocks you over. Chuck Yeager was the owner of the latter. His life was a living embodiment of manliness in all its forms.

 

He thrived on danger and excitement and was as calm as a cucumber when confronted with them. He disliked killing, but he enjoyed the pace and strategy of dogfighting. He admired the military’s structure yet would defiantly flout its regulations on occasion. He was a natural-born trickster who would go to tremendous lengths for a laugh, thus his disobedience was seldom serious or morose. He was a ruthless competitor who was never petty. He wasn’t one to ponder the meaning of life; instead, he was focused on getting the job done well.

Simply put, he was the finest at what he did. A mythology in the sky. He was the first Army Air Corps pilot to achieve an ace in a single operation (killing five aircraft in one flight), and he went on to become a double ace. At the age of 24, he was chosen to try to break the sound barrier, shocking and infuriating scores of more experienced pilots. But his choice paid off when he became the first person to fly faster than sound.

Units of aircraft struggled to traverse the Atlantic without mishaps with pilots aborting and dumping their planes in the seas until in-flight refueling was implemented. Yeager was the first Tactical Air Command commander to successfully deploy a jet fighter squadron across the Atlantic.

Unsurprisingly, he was the youngest person ever honored into the Aviation Hall of Fame.

And he did it all with the type of elegance and flair that made it appear effortless while giving his opponents fits.

Chuck Yeager portrait while flying in uniform.

Lessons on Manliness from Chuck Yeager

“However, like Dad, I had some standards that I adhered to. Whatever I did, I was determined to give it my all. I felt proud of myself for sticking to my commitment and completing what I had begun. That’s how I was brought up. I never got into fights, but I was never pushed about.” Chuck Yeager (Chuck Yeager)

Make the most of what you’ve got.

Chuck Yeager didn’t have a silver spoon in his mouth when he was born. He was one of five children growing up in a rural West Virginia community. Chuck and his brother slept on a pull-out sofa in the living room when his family lived in a three-room home. His mother prepared cornmeal mush for breakfast, and the leftovers were fried and served for supper. Chuck’s attendance at college was never even considered.

Instead, when he reached 18, the young man enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps as an aviation mechanic. He applied to become a “Flying Sargent” when the chance arose. After being accepted, he found himself in a situation where he would spend the rest of his career as the odd man out. Almost every other man was a college graduate on his way to becoming a commissioned officer.

Yeager was first scared by his well-educated friends, fearful of falling behind. However, in the air, “all men are created equal,” and Yeager’s modest upbringing provided him with talents that compensated for his lack of a degree and propelled him to the front of the pack swiftly.

 

Everyone believes that Yeager’s extraordinary eyes were one of the attributes that helped him become a great pilot. He could see tiny specks 50 miles away from the cockpit with 20/10 eyesight. Long before everyone else, he spotted the enemy approaching.

As a kid in West Virginia, he honed those eyes. By the age of six, he had mastered the use of a.22 rifle. He’d wake up early before school, go out into the woods, shoot three or four squirrels, skin them, and put them in a basin of water for his mother to boil for supper. He was a true crack shooter, calm and steady, and learned to zero in on the tiniest objects moving in the undergrowth; he once shot a deer at 600 yards.

He inherited an interest in engineering and mechanical talents from his father. Chuck’s father worked as a natural gas driller, and he would take him out into the field to repair machines and drill wells. His father also taught him how to disassemble and reassemble an engine. This hands-on instruction instilled in Yeager a desire to learn all there was to know about aircraft, as well as a competitive advantage.

Know all there is to know about your job.

Being a test pilot was a risky and fatal job; little errors and oversights resulted in the deaths of scores of pilots. There was no space for mistake in this situation.

Chase aircraft followed test flights and radioed information to the pilot. But Chuck was aware that the radio may go out and that a circumstance would occur in which he’d have to make a split-second choice; waiting for counsel might be fatal.

As a result, Yeager sought to learn all he could about each aircraft he flew. He poured through the handbook, examined the plane’s components, and peppered the flight engineers with questions. When anything went wrong at 800 mph, Yeager understood what to do and how to handle it. He became one with the machine, like a cowboy does with his horse:

“I was fascinated by airplanes: how they flew, what they could and couldn’t accomplish, and why. I was continually learning something new no matter how often I flew, whether it was a button on the instrument panel I hadn’t seen or a handling characteristic of the airplane in weather circumstances I hadn’t encountered. Unlike many pilots, I was keen to understand about the different aircraft systems…it came in handy when something went wrong at 20,000 feet. I understood how to deal with nearly any difficulty since I was familiar with equipment and had a good feel for it. I was aware of what was severe and what was controllable. All pilots take risks now and again, but understanding what you can risk rather than guessing is frequently the difference between getting away with it and digging a fifty-foot hole in Mother Earth.” Chuck Yeager (Chuck Yeager)

Chuck Yeager sitting in the nose of airplane.

Be Smooth

“What a personality. There was no one else who could compare to him.” -Fred J. Ascani, Maj. Gen.

 

Yeager was transferred to Oroville, California for training shortly after joining the Army Air Corps as a pilot. While stationed there, he went to the local USO office and began up a discussion with Glennis Dickhouse, the organization’s social director, who was 18 years old at the time. Yeager urged Glennis to plan a USO dance for the squadron that night since Chuck and the other lads were new in town and needed some fun. “You want me to whip together a dance and locate thirty females on three hours notice?” she questioned, irritated by this stranger’s audacious proposal. “No, you just need to come up with twenty-nine,” he said, “because I want to take you.” Sha-zam!

Yeager would soon be deployed to fight in the war on the other side of the world. But he dubbed his jet “Glamorous Glennis” and wrote home twice a week to that USO girl. Chuck and Glennis would be married for 45 years.

No one is left behind.

Chuck Yeager was shot down over German-occupied France after flying 18 sorties during the war. Yeager examined the silk chart sewn onto his flying jacket and devised a plan to escape via the Pyrenees and into Spain.

Wounded by shrapnel and alone in a German-infested region, Yeager held a.45 in his hand and slept beneath his parachute in the cold and rain until he was discovered by the French Resistance.

While the snow in the Pyrenees melted, they kept him secure (for his part, Yeager helped them make bombs for their covert ops). When it came time for him to flee across the mountains, he was given directions and provisions before being abandoned out in the middle of nowhere at night. Yeager, along with other downed pilots, went up and across mountains, trudging through knee-deep snow. The other pilot with whom he was teamed was wounded in the knee by a German when they were ambushed along the route. The pilot’s leg was only held together by a tendon, which Yeager chopped through and tied off.

Yeager hauled the injured guy up an enormous mountain all day and night, in the dark, the cold, and the snow. Part of him hoped the guy had died, but he didn’t, and Yeager was not about to abandon him. Every muscle in his body was burning, and he was exhausted to the point of delirium. But, with the guy in tow, he forced his way up the mountain. The two pilots arrived in a little town in Spain; the legless man survived because to Yeager’s valiant efforts, and Chuck received the Bronze Star.

Complete the task at hand.

When Yeager was returned to Leiston, England, he became the first evadee to reach Allied lines unharmed.

The military, on the other hand, established a regulation that any individual who returned had to be sent back to the United States. They were concerned that a returning pilot would be shot down and tortured by Germans in exchange for information about the French underground.

 

Chuck Yeager, on the other hand, insisted on finishing what he had begun. His other soldiers believed he was insane, but he was adamant on staying in the chilly, dark base in England. Why? He thought he owed it to the military since he hadn’t yet completed his mission. He intended to “make all those difficult and costly months of combat training” that the Air Corps had put him through worthwhile. He approached his commanding officer with his request, who informed him that the regulation was immovable and that nothing could be done. But Yeager persisted in pressing his case, all the way up to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander himself. After conferring with the War Department, Eisenhower gave him special permission to remain.

Vintage Chuck Yeager waving while sitting in cockpit.

Follow Your Dreams

“The best was Yeager. Period. No one could equal his talent, daring, or, dare I say, his propensity to raise hell and have a good time.” -Bud Anderson, the 363rd Squadron’s top ace

Chuck Yeager excelled at his career because he enjoyed it. He ate, drank, and lived soaring. His achievement came naturally as a result of his enthusiasm. He says it himself:

“If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll typically be fairly excellent at it, and you’ll find yourself creating your own breaks.”

“I’ve never understood why a pilot would stroll by a parked aircraft and not want to get into the cockpit and take off. I couldn’t honestly claim to be the greatest pilot because, no matter how skilled you believe you are, someone is always better. But I doubt there were many others who enjoyed flying as much as I did. “No one has recorded greater flight hours.”

“I wasn’t a profound, intelligent person, but I followed a simple rule: I only did what I loved.” I would not be swayed by promises of power or money into doing things that I didn’t want to do. That kept me grounded and truthful. Job titles were meaningless. Aunt Maude would not be impressed by the title of Assistant Maintenance Officer, but if it meant I could fly more than anybody else, I’d keep it for as long as I could.”

Continue to Push Through

“He was about to embark on the grimmest and biggest risk of his life.” -Tom Wolfe, author

Some believed that the sound barrier was a brick wall in the sky, and that anybody who broke it would dissolve upon “hit.” Other pilots had attempted to approach it but had backed off due to fear. The aircraft started to severely shake as they approached the sound barrier, and it seemed as though traveling much faster would tear the plane apart. Pilots would get frightened and slow down at that moment. But Yeager bit the bullet and forged on, discovering that once you “broke” the barrier, the tremors subsided and the ride became smoother. All you had to do was keep going. Isn’t that how life is most of the time?

 

Vintage Chuck Yeager standing in front of airplane.

Be Tough

Yeager and his wife were racing horses in the desert at night two days before he broke the sound barrier. Chuck collided with a gate, was thrown off his horse, and two of his ribs were broken. He went to a doctor in a neighboring town instead of going to the base doctor, who he was afraid would cancel his impending trip. The doctor advised him to avoid any strenuous exercise for two weeks and to keep his right arm immobilized. That was the previous Monday.

Chuck chose to fly the following day’s trip despite his injuries, informing only his flight engineer, Jack Ridley, about it. They determined that although most of the controls in the X-1 would be manageable, shutting the cockpit door would be difficult.

The X-1, dubbed the “Orange Beast” by Chuck, did not take off on its own; instead, it was hooked to the bottom of a B-29 and dropped like a bomb from the sky. Chuck would descend a ladder from 12,000 feet into the cockpit when it came time for the descent. Ridley would come down and shut the door behind Yeager after Chuck was inside the Orange Beast, and Yeager would then have to grasp a handle with his right arm to lock the door.

This motion was now impossible due to his fractured ribs. So he and Ridley fitted a broomstick into the handle so Yeager could shut it with both arms.

When Tuesday rolled around, Yeager’s right arm hurt, but he went into the cockpit, took off, and pushed the aircraft so hard that it broke the sound barrier.

Vintage Chuck Yeager getting into airplane with co pilot.

Experience is more important than luck.

“A natural born pilot does not exist.” Whatever my abilities or capabilities, being a skilled pilot took a lot of effort and a lifetime of study. Flying is a passion for the finest pilots, the one thing they must do on a daily basis. Because the greatest pilots fly more than the others, they are the best. It’s all about the experience. The desire to understand how and why each piece of equipment works is crucial. And, of course, chance plays a role.” Chuck Yeager (Chuck Yeager)

Chuck Yeager was, by all accounts, a fortunate man. In the 1950s, he was born at the perfect moment to partake in the “golden era of flying.” Yeager was a link between the subsonic and supersonic periods. He was given the opportunity to test practically all of the prototypes that would eventually become contemporary airplanes. “The old air force was being dismantled, and a new air force was being formed right on our doorstep,” Yeager said.

It was a period when aircraft were so automatic that a pilot might fly for an hour without even realizing it. The pilot was more like a matador than a driver, since he was in charge of every aspect.

And it was experience, not chance, that saved Yeager’s skin when the bull charged at him. That knowledge came in handy when he was putting the X-1A through its paces. The canopy was fastened into place on the following iteration of the X-1, and there was no door or ejection seat. The pilot was locked inside if there was a fire or a problem.

 

When Yeager set a new speed record-2.4 Mach-while out on a test flight, the aircraft went crazy, furiously rolling, pitching, and spinning towards the ground like a frisbee. In 51 seconds, the aircraft plummeted 51,000 feet. In the cockpit, Yeager was tossed about like a rag doll, and his helmeted head smashed the canopy. Yeager’s pressure suit filled, his helmet’s face plate fogged up, and he realized he was doomed. With less than a minute to go before impact, Yeager turned the X-1A into a regular spin, evened it out, and landed bruised but alive. Yeager had this to say about the experience:

“It needed all I knew and had ever experienced in a cockpit to survive, and an extra hour of flight time may have been the difference between drilling a hole and landing safely.” Based on hundreds of past spin-tests, I was able to spare myself from acting on impulse. I felt less bewildered than those who had done it a few times before, and I was more likely to make the proper steps to rescue myself since I had done it before.”

Chuck Yeager in air force uniform portrait.Chuck Yeager is still going strong at 86 years old, hunting, fishing, delivering talks, and, of course, flying. In retirement, he doesn’t believe in slowing down. He had this to say at the age of 62:

“You do what you can for as long as you can, and then you do the next best thing when you can’t.” You take a step back, but you don’t quit up… Too many individuals I know have built barriers, genuine brick walls, simply because they have gray hair, and have shut themselves off from lifetime pleasures by thinking, “I’m too old to do that-for that’s younger people.” Living to a ripe old age isn’t a goal in and of itself; the secret is to make the most of the time you have left. And, unlike flying, learning to enjoy life is not something that can be taught. Unfortunately, many individuals do not consider having fun to be a priority in their everyday lives. That was always a top concern for me in whatever I was doing…

I’m not the sort to sit in a rocking rocker. I can’t just sit around and watch TV till I become fat and fade away. And there’s so much more I’d want to accomplish; I’ve never lost my interest in things that fascinate me… I haven’t completed everything yet, but I won’t have missed anything by the time I’m done. I’m not going to go in tomorrow with a frown on my face. I’ve had a great time.”

Sources:

Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff

An Autobiography of Chuck Yeager

 

 

The “chuck yeager political affiliation” is a biography of Chuck Yeager, who was an American test pilot and military officer. He broke the sound barrier in 1947, becoming the first man to fly faster than sound. The “Chuck Yeager: Lessons in Manliness From a Great Man” is a book that tells many stories about his life.

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