’Once he set his mind to something, he did it:’ Chuck Yeager, first man to break sound barrier, dies | TheUnion.com

’Once he set his mind to something, he did it:’ Chuck Yeager, first man to break sound barrier, dies

Retired Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager unveils a statue of himself on the 40th anniversary of his historic supersonic flight, Oct. 14, 1987. The unveiling took place in his hometown of Hamlin, West Virginia. (AP Photo/Steven Wayne Rotsch)
Chuck Yeager officiated a ceremony in 2012 at Beale Air Force Base. Twelve U.S. Air Force reservists were treated to an appearance by Yeager at the Yuba County air base in front of a static display of a SR-71 Blackbird.
In this Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, file photo, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Yeager steps into an F-15D for a re-enactment flight commemorating his breaking of the sound barrier 65 years earlier, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier, died Monday at age 97. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File)

To Bart Riebe, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager was a good friend, “like a second father,” and an example of the excellence of a generation.

Riebe said he knew Yeager for over 40 years, and that in that time, they flew together quite a bit.

“That was his realm,” said Riebe, adding that spending this one-on-one time with him was a learning experience.

Yeager, who in 1947 became the first person to break the sound barrier, died Monday. He was 97.

Riebe, of Riebe’s Auto Parts in Grass Valley, said Yeager frequently spent time at the business. One day, Yeager told him, “Riebe, you need a better office,” a comment Riebe dismissed at the time.

He recounted, through laughter, going on a vacation shortly afterward and returning to find that Yeager had built him an office.

From this personal anecdote to Yeager’s greater life achievements, Riebe said the pattern was simple: “Once he set his mind to something, he did it.”

Yeager, who moved to the area in 1975, has been honored locally for his achievements through the years.

In 2004, the Nevada County Airport dedicated his F-104 Starfighter jet as a monument at its entrance.

In 2010, Yuba County officials announced they would be renaming a part of Smartsville Road, which leads to Beale Air Force Base, to “Chuck Yeager Road.”

The same year, at 87 years old, Yeager was still flying, according to Riebe, whose Aviat Husky he would sometimes borrow.

“It’s an airplane that’s very capable of flying in high altitude mountain terrain, and he loved that, he loved being in the Sierra,” said Riebe.

He said Yeager was closely involved with the Young Eagles aviation program, which worked to guide potential new pilots, and “if it had a charity event or a need was being filled in the community, he was willing to help any way he could.”

“That generation of people, and certainly people like Chuck (Yeager), were so unique and such a big part of our history in aviation, and just in life,” said Riebe. “They say it’s the greatest generation, and I have no doubt.”


Yeager, from a small town in the hills of West Virginia, flew for more than 60 years, including piloting an X-15 to near 1,000 mph at Edwards in October 2002 at age 79.

“Living to a ripe old age is not an end in itself. The trick is to enjoy the years remaining,” he said in “Yeager: An Autobiography.”

“I haven’t yet done everything, but by the time I’m finished, I won’t have missed much,” he wrote. “If I auger in (crash) tomorrow, it won’t be with a frown on my face. I’ve had a ball.”

On Oct. 14, 1947, Yeager, then a 24-year-old captain, pushed an orange, bullet-shaped Bell X-1 rocket plane past 660 mph to break the sound barrier, at the time a daunting aviation milestone.

“Sure, I was apprehensive,” he said in 1968. “When you’re fooling around with something you don’t know much about, there has to be apprehension. But you don’t let that affect your job.”

Yeager said in 1947 he could have gone even faster had the plane carried more fuel. He said the ride “was nice, just like riding fast in a car.”

Yeager nicknamed the rocket plane, and all his other aircraft, “Glamorous Glennis” for his wife, who died in 1990.

Yeager’s feat was kept top secret for about a year when the world thought the British had broken the sound barrier first.

“It wasn’t a matter of not having airplanes that would fly at speeds like this. It was a matter of keeping them from falling apart,” Yeager said.

Sixty-five years later to the minute, on Oct. 14, 2012, Yeager commemorated the feat, flying in the back seat of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000 feet above California’s Mojave Desert.

His exploits were told in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff,” and the 1983 film it inspired.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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