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Chuck Yeager

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Photos courtesy of WV Humanities Council Photos courtesy of WV Humanities Council

Lincoln County Gave the World ‘The Right Stuff'

Charles Elwood Yeager was well-known in aviation circles for years before a book and a movie made him famous.

In his 1979 book "The Right Stuff" about American test pilots and its first generation of astronauts, author Tom Wolfe said Yeager's influence was so great in aviation that commercial airline pilots adopted his speech patterns.

"It originated in the mountains of West Virginia, in the coal country, so far up in the hollows that, as the saying went, ‘they had to pipe in daylight.' … It was the drawl of the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff: Chuck Yeager," Wolfe wrote.

Yeager is known as being the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. At the time of that flight on Oct. 14, 1947, some people thought the stresses on an aircraft would be so great that the speed could not be attained — thus the phrase "sound barrier," Wolfe wrote.

On test flights to break the sound barrier, forces buffeting aircraft rendered them hard-to-control: "The only trouble they had with Yeager was in holding him back. … Not being an engineer, Yeager didn't know the ‘barrier' existed," Wolfe wrote.

Making the flight even harder was that Yeager did it with two broken ribs suffered in a fall during a drunken horse ride the night before. He had to close the cockpit with the help of a sawed-off broom handle, Wolfe wrote.

That accomplishment and more came from a man born and raised near the Lincoln County community of Myra. He enlisted in the Army at age 18, became a pilot and was shot down twice while flying over Europe. He led combat missions during the Vietnam War.

Now he is known worldwide. West Virginia's busiest airport is named for him, as is a bridge over the Kanawha River on the West Virginia Turnpike and a scholar program at Marshall University.

And on Oct. 4, 2012, the 65th anniversary of his most famous flight, Yeager took the controls of an F-15 out of Nellis Air Force Base, breaking the sound barrier again, at age 89.