Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Then Do the Next Best Thing

What a cool guy is Chuck Yeager (born 1923)! In the end he logged ten thousand hours flying in 180 different militairy aircraft. He loves flying, hunting and fishing. And he uses every change to do so. In the past and in the present.

A few days ago I finished reading his 'Yeager. An Autobiography' (1985).

He was not one of those guys who knew from the start that he wanted to become a pilot. It happened by accident. He wanted to pull out of guard duty and applied for a 'Flying Sergeant Program'. He got sick the first few flights. 

Did he have the right stuff? Answer Chuck (page 407-408):
"Ever since Tom Wolfe's book ['The Right Stuff' J.D.] was published, the question I'm asked most often and which always annoys me is whether I think I've got "the right stuff". (...) The question annonys me because it implies that a guy who has "the right stuff" was born that way. I was born with unusually good eyes and coordination. I was mechanically oriented, understood machines easily. My nature was to stay cool in tight spots. Is that "the right stuff"? All I know is I worked my tail off to learn how to fly, and worked hard at it all the way. And in the end, the one big reason why I was better than the average pilot was because I flew more than anybody else. If there is such a thing as "the right stuff" in piloting, then it is experience. The secret to my success was that somehow I always managed to live to fly another day."

Never tired of flying? Answer Chuck (page 421):
"Life is as unpredictable as flying in combat. If the day comes when a flight surgeon tells me I can't fly anymore in high-performance jets, I can always sneak out back and fly ultra-lights. Just like when the day dawns that Andy and I can't manage our treks into the Sierra to fish for golden trout - hell, there are still nearby lakes and plenty of rowboats. You do what you can do as long as you can, and when you finally can't, you do the next best thing."

Why was Chuck in the cockpit of the X-1 - the first airplane that would break the soundbarrier in 1947? Answer Albert G. Boyd (page 125):
"We had several other outstanding pilots to choose from, but none of them could quite match his skill in a cockpit or his coolness under pressure."

Breaking the sound barrier - on october 14, 1947 - was a let-down (page 164-165):
"Suddenly the Mach needle began to fluctuate. It went up to .965 Mach - then tipped right off the scale. I thought I was seeing things! We were flying supersonic! And it was as smooth as a baby's bottom. Grandma could be sitting up there sipping lemonade. I kept the speed off the scale for about twenty seconds, then raised the nose to slow down. I was tunderstruck. After all the anxiety, breaking the sound barrier turned out to be a perfectly paved speedway. (...) Later on, I realized that this mission had to end in a let-down, because the real barrier wasn't in the sky, but in our knowledge and experience of supersonic flight."

In the house of Jacky Cochran (1906-1980) Chuck was always the star of her show. Noone could outrank Chuck there no matter who else was there.

P.S. I wrote on Chuck Yeager before: The Right Stuff (2010) and Apex. A hero's heroes (2015).

No comments:

Post a Comment