Don Lee: Yeager broke sound barrier while injured

Published 12:05 am Saturday, October 31, 2020

I have to admit, I made a mistake in the last week’s column.

I wrote that the P-80 Shooting Star that Yeager flew under the Charleston, West Virginia downtown bridge had two jet engines. Jim Larsen gave me the correct information, it had a single engine.

I had read where the early jets had two, since the engines in those days were not very powerful. Thanks Jim.

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I am now assured that at least two people besides my editor at The Tribune read my column.

I’ll write a little more about Chuck Yeager who, at 97, is doing well in his California home.

One story about his supersonic flight that bears telling again.

He was a rather consistent visitor at the Pancho Barnes’ “Happy Bottom Riding Club.”

He made a comment one time that, if the hours were added up, he would find that he spent more time there than in the air. It was a bar near the Muroc Field now called Edwards Air Force Base. It was frequented by the test pilots from the nearby U.S. Air Force base including Jimmy Dolittle, among others.

This is the story about Yeager that I have heard.

One evening, Chuck was at Pancho’s enjoying a libation, why else would one go to a bar?

He had been there for a while and was riding a horse on the way home.

At a gate, which he was trying to open, he fell off the horse and cracked a few ribs, which can be very painful.

Next day, he went to a civilian doctor who taped him up.

(I know it can be very painful. Just last year, I had a similar injury and I didn’t even have an excuse of visiting a bar. When I asked about taping, my doctor said, “We don’t tape them up anymore, just tolerate the pain and in 6 weeks, it will be gone.”)

Two days later, Chuck was scheduled to try to go supersonic in the Bell XS-1.

He found that he could not latch the canopy on the plane. One of his fellow pilots found a broom stick that could be used to lever the canopy shut. They never told others he was injured.

On Oct. 14,1947, he broke the sound barrier over Rogers Dry Lake by flying the rocket powered Bell XS-1 plane at 1.05 Mach at 45,000 feet. The feat was not announced to the public.

You can see the Bell XS-1, which is on display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near the Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.-area.

Yeager had an outstanding record in WWII. He was credited with 11.5 victories and destroyed two Messerschmitert Bf 109s without firing a shot.

He was getting into a firing position and the German pilot panicked and broke to the right, colliding with his wingman. Both pilots survived by bailing out.

On that mission, he became an ace in a day by downing five enemy planes.

He is also credited with shooting down a German jet fighter, a Me 262, while it was landing.

He is an amazing guy.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at