Chuck Yeager already had a healthy career as a pilot before he began testing prototype aircraft. According to Weapons and Warfare, in World War II, he earned the distinction of shooting down a German Messerschmitt Me-262, the first fighter jet to see combat and one of 13 aircraft Yeager took out during the war — though, granted, Yeager was only able to do so from his propeller-driven P-51 because the German was landing (via Achievement). After the war, Yeager served for a further 30 years, much of that time spent evaluating new aircraft, both American and captured from abroad (via Britannica).
His crowning achievement came in 1947 when he found himself in the cockpit of a Bell X-1, a rocket-powered aircraft designed to break the sound barrier. Becoming the first person to travel past Mach 1 brought instant fame to the pilot, and earned him the title of “fastest man alive” (via Earth And Sky). Yet this wasn’t the end of Yeager and his drive to push the limits of his aircraft, as he made further attempts to set records that almost cost him everything.
Chuck Yeager's Mach 2 flight nearly killed him
While Yeager set an incredible record for humanity in 1947, it wasn’t until 1953 that he reached his personal best for fastest speed. That year, Yeager had already distinguished himself as the first American to fly a Soviet MiG fighter brought by a North Korean defector(via Biography). In December, he took flight in a newer Bell rocket plane and found himself racing across the winter California sky at Mach 2.44, a speed of around 1,650 mph (via chuckyeager). However, this is where everything went horribly wrong, as Yeager began to lose control of the plane at this speed and went into a spin from which he was just barely able to recover.
The same couldn’t be said years later in 1963 when he tested an experimental version of the NF-104 interceptor jet, the first American jet fighter capable of Mach 2 (indirectly thanks to data from his flights). The one Yeager piloted on this occasion had a rocket engine attached to it for a better climb rate. It indeed allowed for an impressively quick ascent, but went into a stall and could not be recovered. Yeager was forced to eject. According to Business Insider, while Yeager ultimately survived, the rocket fuel he encountered as he bailed from the plane left him severely burned and bed-ridden for weeks.
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