Once upon a time, the Speed of Sound thought it was a really cool dude. The Speed put up barriers all around the world (the Sound Barrier) and strutted around daring people to race.
Birds (who are smarter than they are sometimes given credit for) politely declined to race (except for a crow named Lenny who rudely declined and was later punished for his behavior). There are rumors that a mosquito once accepted the challenge but died before the race could be run.
All in all, Speed of S was the reigning royalty of zippiness. Except for light, but we don’t like to talk about that.
Then came Chuck.
Chuck was a great dude. He was an Air Force fighter pilot. After the war, he stayed in the Air Force as a test pilot.
It is interesting to note that Chuck Yeager doesn’t look at all like his photos. I know this because I saw the movie The Right Stuff and I know that Chuck really looks a lot like Sam Sheppard.
Chuck Yeager was selected to fly the Bell XS-1 in an attempt to break the sound barrier. Everyone (including the aforementioned Speed of Sound) knew that this was impossible, because going that fast would blow up the aircraft, anyone in it, and quite possibly the entire universe. The only people who did not know it was impossible were the people involved in the testing.
Because the idea of doing the impossible wasn’t enough, Chuck fell off a horse two days before The Flight. He didn’t want to be taken off the project so he had a veterinarian tape him up (which seems fair since the horse caused the problems). He told his wife (smart man) and one other project pilot, Jack Ridley. Ridley (being that kind of a pilot) fixed up a broom handle lever so that Chuck could seal the hatch (the broken ribs making it impossible for Yeager to move enough to grab the regular door handle). It’s a great scene in the movie. And because I’m That Kind of Mom I’ve included the scene for you (below).
Spoiler alert: on October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager reached Mach 1.07. Speed of Sound went to bed without dinner and sulked for many days. After that Speed went back to work and spent more time than usual tormenting mosquitoes.
Chuck Yeager went on to break a boatload planeload of other records. To the best of my knowledge, he did not apologize for breaking them and everyone knows you should apologize if you break something. He was one of the first American pilots to fly a MiG-15 (you’re playing the soundtrack in your head, aren’t you?). He flew a chase aircraft in 1953 for Jackie Cochran, the first woman to fly faster than the Speed (told you he was a good guy).
Also in 1953, Other People were the first to reach Mach 2. Ridley and Yeager decided to outdo the O.P. and hit 2.44 before the O.P. could even have a good celebratory party.
On October 14, 2012 on the 65th anniversary of breaking the sound barrier, then Brigadier General (retired) Yeager did it again at the age of 89. Pretty dang cool if you ask me.