This is unforgivable. With all the hoopla about yesterday's crazy supersonic space jump, we didn't celebrate yesterday's 65th anniversary of the first man to go faster than the speed of sound, a true American hero: the now retired Brigadier General Chuck Yeager.
But yesterday, as Baumgartner was jumping 24 miles up in the sky, Yeager didn't forget about his amazing adventure. He went to the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and jumped in the cockpit of an F-15 to fly faster than the speed of sound, just like the good old times. He is 89 years old now.
The first time he did it was on October 14, 1947. He became the first human to break the speed of sound using the legendary Bell X-1 prototype, named Glamorous Glennis in honor of his wife. It shattered the world, literally, shaking the windows of Muroc Army Air Field now Edwards Air Force Base as he "broke the barrier" for the first time. That day, people on the ground listened to a sonic boom for the very first time.
This Sunday he talked about his original and celebratory flights:
Up until that time [when he broke the speed of sound] we weren't able to do it. Finally we succeeded, and that opened up the doors of space to us.
It was a smooth flight today. I'm very familiar with the area and got a good view. I want to thank you all at Nellis. The F-15 is my favorite airplane, and that's why I came here to fly it.
What I am, I owe to the Air Force. They took an 18-year-old kid from West Virginia and turned him into who I am today.
Test pilot Chuck Yeager and his X-1.
Yeager was always cool, back then and now. He always kept the cold blood that only test pilots have, capable of facing any danger after fighting against swarms of Nazi pilots during World War II (and crashing in France in the process).
When you ask him what was it like to break the sound barrier, his reply is simple: "Just flying a plane. You don't hear the sonic boom in the cockpit. The shockwave forms on the wing and extends to the ground—only those on the ground hear it when it hits the ground."
It's funny to see his words on his web site, so honest and sharp. In a way, reminds me of Neil Armstrong's unparalleled sense of duty and service to his country.
What were you thinking?
Just doing my job.
What were you feeling?
Duty—just doing my job. Satisfaction—accomplished what we set out to do.
Just like that. Just doing my job, folks. Nothing to see here. He risked his life in four wars, he risked his life in a crazy test pilot program, and he helped poor people all across the planet working for the Wings of Hope program—but he was just doing his job.
All that lot—the test pilots and the original astronauts from Mercury, Gemini and Apollo—were made of something different. Perhaps of the same right stuff that got Felix to jump yesterday. Or Kittinger, back in the sixties. The courage and perhaps the recklessness that allows some humans to face the unknown and say hello to the Grim Reaper.
It was also a different time. These people were still discovering the very basics, doing things that nobody ever did before. I always think that those times, that excitement of the unknown is mostly gone. Maybe that's why everyone—except the jealous and irrelevant cynics—was looking at brave Felix yesterday.
Watch this re-enactment of his record from the movie The Right Stuff—a must see—based on the Tom Wolfe novel of the same name. It's clearly not 'just doing my job.' This man went well beyond his duty to a place where no human have been before, survived, crashed several times and kept going back to the cockpit every single time.
Like yesterday, 65 years later after his record and 89 years old.