Missing Man

Vale, General Yeager

Sometime today, you will find yourself processing the news that the famous twinkle has forever left the clear eyes of Brigadier-General Charles E. Yeager. 

I heard the news from my friend Ronald, who heard it on the radio. Then I checked and found I’d not known for around five hours.

Part of me regretted that.

We should fly so high…
Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager (February 13th, 1923 – December 7th, 2020)

Another part was glad I hadn’t found out while I was at work. I might have quit for the day.

Keep flying

It’s hard to know how to mark such a momentous passing. Should you ground all the planes – or put them all up?

I think the birds have it right: They keep flying. And let’s not forget, Chuck Yeager lost a good number of friends, but he always strapped into the next aircraft and kept flying.

Somewhere, somebody is flying right now in memory of Chuck Yeager. If you owned a Mustang, what else would you do?

I hope they’re flying it loud and low, so other people can enjoy it. I hope they’re flying  it high, up beyond the surly bonds of Earth, to maybe touch the face of God and say ‘Yeah, I know, he was only on loan.’ 

I hope they’re flying it safe. 

And above all, I hope they are flying it with needle-width precision, or better, in honour of a genuine aviator.

My hero

For what it’s worth, Chuck Yeager was my hero. I never met him and he wouldn’t have even known I existed. But that was my one-sided relationship with him. 

Chuck Yeager wasn’t just American, he was Americana – and America.

What I admired most wasn’t his World War II service, great though it was; or the fact that when he was shot down he escaped, got home and talked his way back into combat; or the ace status he earned afterwards. It wasn’t all the fast jets he flew or the leadership he always showed. 

It wasn’t even the fact that he flew through the sound barrier for ‘company pay’, when plenty of other were refusing to do it for far more.

I admire that he rolled the Bell X-1.

Not that he did, exactly, but that he knew he could

I admire that he studied that one-trick ship so thoroughly that he knew he could roll it. Safely, and precisely as always. Safely, and precisely and with panache.

Even for a try-hard Day-VFR pilot from the Antipodes, he was the aviator I could aspire to be. And I still do.

Missing Man

I wrote that Chuck Yeager was my hero, but that’s not quite true. He is my hero. 

I don’t have to go looking for a new one because, as definitely and finally as he’s gone, he’s still here too.

Taps. The Last Post.

Missing Man.

10 thoughts on “Missing Man

  1. The world shrank a little today. A Big Man left us and the world became that little bit smaller without him. I have a lot of aviation heroes and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of them. Some I had lunch with, one I had morning tea with at his home for a book signature, one I worked with for months on his autobiography. Chuck I met briefly 15 years ago while working at Avalon, so he would have been 82 . He visited us in our ‘control tower’ and we all squished up for a group photo. Chuck had his right arm around my shoulders as we were about the same height. I felt pretty good about that, until Chuck realized that there was one woman amongst us. He abandoned me to stand with her. Typical, I’m sure, but DANG IT! I’m sure he had a big welcoming party with all his buddies as he walked through the portals and received his latest set of wings, immortal.

    1. Great story, Bob. It’s not sexist when you’re 82, it’s being larger than life! Through a mix of preparation, skill and good humour, Yeager kept the Reaper waiting a good long time – and I agree, there was probably a lot of other people who’ve been waiting to a long time see him again too.

  2. I had just landed yesterday when I heard the news. Talk about a giant! Imagine being the guy that people like Armstrong and Glenn cited as their own hero and inspiration. I was trying to convey all this to my 5 year old son, but there just weren’t any words sufficient to the task.

    Like Bob Hoover, he was a product of his era and as a result we are unlikely to see anyone of his ilk again. Since his era was defined by a global war and an aviation industry that was primitive and dangerous by today’s standards, that’s probably a good thing.

    Still, it was a hell of a run.

    1. Thanks Ron.
      Great to hear from you – and as eloquent as ever.
      It was a hell of a run indeed.
      I spent last night watching a documentary about the Bell X-1 and they made the point that, in those days, they didn’t have the telemetry they do now. As a result, the engineers relied on their test pilots’ ability to recall and describe what happened on a flight. As well as fly, Yeager, with his hands and hillbilly drawl, could ‘speak the language’.
      You’re absolutely right that, today, technology has been able to take over a lot of the risk and communication. Still, people will continue to do amazing things and our kids will find their own heroes. Our role is to remind them to look.
      Stay safe.

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