Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager accepted a donation of an old footlocker related to an old friend for the American Airlines C. R. Smith Museum, on Sunday, July 25, 2010, at the Museum in Fort Worth. He spoke for nearly two hours, showing a film biography, and taking questions from the audience of nearly 300, including about 80 other pilots.
Do we need to introduce Yeager? He’s recognized as the first man to break the sound barrier in level flight, a veteran of flying in U.S. wars from World War II to Vietnam, and one of the most storied and respected test pilots ever, flying for low pay for the Air Force. His exploits open the story of the Mercury Astronauts in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, and the movie that followed.
I’ve heard him speak briefly before, but this was a great treat. I’m sure he can be caught sometime without a smile, but not on this day. Yeager spoke about his great love, flying. He minced no words — you won’t find an unedited video of this speech, I’ll wager.
Enthusiasm for a topic goes a long way to make a great speaker. Yeager has enthusiasm.
In our family, we’ve always enjoyed laughing about our fighter pilot, Wes. When he drove the delivery truck for my father’s furniture and appliance store, he’d vocalize the way he wished the engine sounded in a five-speed racer, and not the three-speed manual, six-cylinder 1955 GMC he was driving. It was charming way back then, in the GMC.
We suspected he did the same thing when he was flying jets. His co-pilots would never deny it.
I think all great pilots do little things they are not aware of when they really enjoy the flying, or the story about the flying.
See Gen. Yeager’s left hand in the photo above? He’s talking about flying. From his hand, you can tell the attitude of the airplane at that point of the story.
And in the photo below? I think that’s the one where he’s explaining a dog fight.
See the story in his hands?