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Yeager still soaring

Retired Gen. Chuck Yeager was doing one of the things he loves best Friday morning, flying above Nevada County with close friend and Grass Valley businessman Bart Riebe.

“Bart’s an excellent pilot and he wanted to land it, but I told him ‘No, I’ve got one more left in me,'” Yeager said in the West Virginia native twang that has never left him.

At 84, Nevada County’s most famous person obviously has more than one landing left. Other than a slight hitch in his gate, he remains sharp and in flying shape with no restrictions on his license.



The man who broke the sound barrier in 1947 as the first step in the race for space was taking a break from his still-busy schedule. But he still had time for a promotional shot for Channel 3 in Sacramento for Air Force Week, the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force which begins Monday.

Yeager will not make a special appearance at Beale Air Force Base’s open house and festivities for Air Force Week next Wednesday, but he will be at a special dinner there Friday night, according to his wife, Victoria.




It’s one more stop in a schedule that in recent months has included three weeks in Australia with an international night-time air show, 11 appearances in three days in South Carolina with Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter, and a stint driving the second pace car at the Indianapolis 500.

The man who was also the first person to fly mach 2, or twice the speed of sound, said ripping around the Indy track in a fast automobile is nothing like being strapped to an Air Force jet.

“There’s no comparison. It’s all relative,” Yeager said while standing underneath the F-104 Starfighter he flew, which is on display at the Nevada County Airport. “Drivin’s better than walkin’, and flyin’s better than drivin.’

This weekend, he will be fishing with Baron Hilton, one of the heirs to the Hilton Hotel fortune. You might have heard of Hilton’s granddaughter, a young woman named Paris Hilton.

Victoria helps keep the general’s busy schedule and marvels at her husband’s tenacity, spirit and an often-barbed tongue.

“He’s still feisty. He still tells you what he thinks,” she said. Victoria is Yeager’s second wife, whom he met during a walk near his Penn Valley home in 2000.

Yeager was originally married to the late Glennis Dickhouse, who was a third generation Grass Valley native. The general and Glennis moved here in the mid-1970s to retire. Glennis died in 1990, but Yeager kept his retirement base here.

Despite lawsuits with the children in recent years he had with Glennis regarding the family money, Yeager remains upbeat, and more than ready to share stories of his famous past.

In 1941 he went straight from high school to the Army Air Corps.

“I had never seen an airplane on the ground until I enlisted,” Yeager said. But he was already a master mechanic, so he was made crew chief of a combat training plane.

That got his interest in flight going, and he got his wings in a special flying sergeant program in 1942. He trained in places such as Tonopah, Nev., Santa Rosa and Oroville, and in November 1943, sailed to war on the Queen Elizabeth.

Once he got there, he was given a plane he had never seen before to enter into aerial combat with, the famous P-51 Mustang.

“I shot down my first airplane over Berlin and the next day, I got shot down,” Yeager said. It happened in a head-on pass with three German Focke Wolfe 190s.

“They all hit me at once,” Yeager said. “I didn’t have to bail out because the plane fell apart around me.”

Yeager floated to safety in his parachute into occupied France, and dodged Germans with the help of the French Resistance for the next three months, “sleeping in hay stacks.” He made it over the Pyrenees Mountains into neutral Spain, where he spent two months before returning to his flight unit.

When he got back from the war, Yeager landed close to his West Virginia roots at Wright Field in Ohio, where he became a maintenance officer. It turned out Wright Field was the Air Force’s research and development center and Yeager got to test cutting-edge jets.

“That’s when I started flying everything,” he said, and he was eventually picked to fly the Bell X-1 in which he flew faster than sound (about 700 mph) on Oct. 14, 1947.

After that, he flew just about everything imaginable, including the U-2 spy plane which is still flown out of Beale, the F-104 at the airport, and the famous SR-71 Blackbird at mach 3.2, “The fastest I ever flew.”

He also shed light on how he survived all that and kept going to become famous.

“I always said I wanted to know more about the airplane I was flying than the guy who invented it,” Yeager said. “The secret is not to be just a good pilot but to outlive your peers.”

ooo

To learn more about the life of Gen. Chuck Yeager, log onto his Web site, http://www.chuckyeager.com. To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

Air Force Week

U.S. Air Force Combat Command and Beale Air Force Base are hosting Air Force Week, June 4 to 10 with events in Sacramento and Marysville. Gen. Chuck Yeager will not be making any special appearances, but he will attend a Friday night dinner at Beale.

Some of the events are listed below, and admission is free for most:

Monday

• Air Force Week Proclamation on the State Capitol steps with Travis Band, Air Force flyover, 10 a.m.

• Sacramento River Cats game Ð Military Appreciation Night, 7:05 p.m.

Wednesday

• Heritage Park opening and dedication at the SR-71 display, Beale Air Force Base, 9:30 a.m.

• Beale Open House on the flight line with static displays and demonstrations, 11 a.m.

• Tops in Blue at the All Seasons RV Stadium, Gold Sox, Marysville, 8 p.m.

Saturday-Sunday

• California Capitol Air Show at Mather Airport, Rancho Cordova, featuring the Air Force Thunderbirds and display of Air Force aircraft with gates opening at 9 a.m.

For more information on Air Force Week and a complete list of events, visit http://www.beale.af.mil/airforceweek/ or call the 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs Office at 530-634-8887. For more information on the California Capital air show, visit http://californiacapitalairshow.com/.


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