After WWII, the US Army Air Forces realized they had a surplus of two things: fantastic equipment and even better pilots. Chief among those pilots was Chuck Yeager, whose incredible journey from small-town West Virginia to helping resistance fighters in the Pyrenees eventually brought him to the Aeronautical Systems Flight Test Division—where he made his biggest splash yet.
Some Guys Have All The Luck
Chuck Yeager never would’ve become a legend without Glamorous Glennis. Who is she? Well, according to Chuck, she was his good luck charm. Yeager met and fell in love with Glennis Dickhouse before any of this happened. After that, he named any aircraft he flew Glamorous Glennis. He was probably onto something about her being good luck…
Chuck Yeager enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces just a few months after turning 18. He was too young and didn’t have the right background for flight training, but he had two things on his side. He possessed incredible 20/10 eyesight…and good timing. When the US entered WWII, they were suddenly in need of pilots—and Yeager was right there.
Yeager was a seriously talented pilot—but he was also good on the ground. When Axis forces shot him down during his eighth mission, he made a daring escape to Spain thanks to the help of some French resistance fighters. He paid them back by aiding them in the construction of bombs and helping one of their navigators cross the Pyrenees.
The USAAF’s rules stated that anyone who’d gone down over enemy territory couldn’t go back in. Yeager wasn’t going to accept that. He confronted General Dwight D. Eisenhower himself and convinced the man to let him go back to his squadron. Ultimately, Yeager flew 61 missions during the war and won scores of awards. Still, he wasn’t done making history.
Need For Speed
With everything he’d done in WWII under his belt—plus his vast experience flying and maintaining aircraft—Yeager was eligible to become a test pilot. Once again, Yeager had good timing. He was in the right place at the right time, as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was working on a program with a lofty and difficult goal. They wanted to break the sound barrier.
They already had the aircraft, the rocket engine-powered Bell XS-1, but they didn’t have a pilot. Another test pilot who realized how dangerous and potentially impossible the mission was demanded $150,000 (about $1.7 million today) to do it. As a result, the USAF took over and proposed that Chuck Yeager be the one to complete the task.
Wild Horses Couldn’t Drag Him Away
The task was perilous enough that death was a very real possibility. Despite the danger, Yeager was up for the task—however, a freak accident nearly ended the experiment before it even began. Just two nights out from the big test, Yeager was riding horses with his wife, the famous good-luck charm Glennis, when he fell and broke two ribs.
Yeager knew that the USAF would take him off the mission if they found out what had happened, so he swore his wife and doctor to secrecy, and only told one other pilot, Jack Ridley, about it. It’s a good thing he did, too, because when the time came to get in that aircraft, Yeager immediately ran into a problem. The pain from his cracked ribs prevented him from being able to seal the aircraft’s hatch. Ridley saw him having trouble and used a broom handle to help get the hatch closed. And then, it was time for takeoff.
Glamorous Glennis Takes Flight
On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager took off in the Bell XS-1 that he’d renamed Glamorous Glennis. While Yeager flew over the Mojave Desert at 45,000 feet, he hit Mach 1.05—becoming the first pilot to break the sound barrier. It was a massive achievement, but Yeager didn’t stop there. In the years following, he broke scores of other aviation records and even defended his title by setting a record speed of Mach 2.44 shortly after another pilot had reached twice the speed of sound. He also stuck with his good luck charm, the famous Glennis. They remained married for 66 years, until her death in 2011.