Friday, May 2, 2014

Chuck Yeager

My son and I also read Chuck Yeager's autobiography (simply titled Yeager: An Autobiography) for his senior year history study of the 20th century. Yeager is definitely definitive when it comes to testing airplanes for the USAF. We also learned that there was a lot of creative liberty taken with the movie, The Right Stuff, like I had thought. I simply couldn't imagine Yeager taking a plane without permission to test it beyond its limits and crash it...just to walk away from it. He never did that. However he did crash a test plane once, and severely had his face burned. He ejected from the plane and was hospitalized for some time enduring treatment. The doctor had a new, but extremely painful. treatment, to treat his burns so that there would be few, if any scars.
We also learned that Yeager was the "stunt double" for John Wayne in the 1950's movie, Jet Pilot.  We've watched this movie many times. I've used it as one movie to help teach the concept of the Cold War, especially since that is something my kids never had to expeerience. Apart from the drama in the movie, of a Russian female pilot who crosses paths with an American pilot, John the amazing footage of the planes flying through the air and doing stunts. Yeager was responsible for that, so we had to pull the movie out again and look for him, which of course is funny because we never see the man but we certainly do get to see his skill of flying an airplane!
Of course Yeager's book begins with his growing up years during the Depression, so along with the other autobiographies we read (Schwarzkopf, Duke, and others) we had a first hand account of what it was like to grow up during those difficult times. It was interesting to note that none of them, not even Yeager who grew up in West Virginia where they worked hard to make ends meet, none of them pesonally benefited from the New Deal.
When we moved into our study of WWII, we picked up on the reading of the pages of Yeager's years as a pilot in Europe, even once crash landing and having to evade the enemy as he caught up with the French resistance to freedom. He should have returned to  America after that. However as I recall there was a policy that these guys not return to their planes lest they crash again and ultimately become a prisoner. Too many secrets could be coerced from them about the Underground that had helped them before so it was meant to protect everyone involved and to protect secrets. However Yeager fought to keep his place as a pilot, and in his typical no-nonsense Yeager style, he got his way.
Yeager's stories are incredible. No, he was not college educated so for the definition of test pilot, it is amazing how he dominated the program with such great success. However he had impeccable hands-on knack for precision flying and he relied on his more engineering minded friends for the math. Thus teamed up, they made a great team!
I'm on Yeager's facebook page now and this no nonsense mentality which defined him as a test pilot continues to define his style. Once asked what the most fun part was of flying during WWII he basically replied that he didn't have fun flying. He was deadly serious about precision and paying attention...because it was life or death. Yeager waxed eloquent on how many a good pilot died because they had a bit too much fun instead of dead seriousness as they flew their craft. There is a time for fun, and Yeager certainly knew how to have fun as evidenced in his stories of catching rare fish in the Rockies...but he also knew when he had to be serious.
Yeager has the distinction of having enlisted at the age of 18 in 1941,retiring as a brigadier general in 1975.
As of today, Yeager is 91 years old...and facebook postings share that he still flies planes! 

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