Who was the greatest pilot of all time? I nominate Chuck Yeager.

Three of my lifelong interests are aviation, space and cinema. The three topics are brought together in the 1983 film “The Right Stuff”which I recently viewed yet again [see my review here].

This brilliant movie is the story of the first seven American astronauts who were the Mercury team fronting NASA’s efforts to compete with the Soviet Union’s space programme in the 1960s (my teenage years when I followed every flight by both sides). ¬†However, the film begins and ends with two amazing flights by American test pilot Chuck Yeager.

Seeing the movie again reminded me of my admiration for this pilot and my enjoyment in 1986 of his autobiography (written with Leo Janos) entitled simply “Yeager”. It is an utterly remarkable story.

In the Second World War, Yeager was an ‘evadee’ and double ace with 11 kills. As a post-war test pilot, he was the first man to break the sound barrier in the Bell X-1, the conqueror of the Bell X-1A after a 51,000 foot fall, and the the burnt and battered survivor of the bale out from an F-104 Starfighter. Oh, and he was a veteran of 127 missions over Vietnam. I nominate him for the greatest pilot of all time.

Chuck Yeager is still alive, now aged 92. You can read more about him on his web site here.


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