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