Don Lee: The time Yeager flew a jet under a bridge in Charleston
Published 12:00 am Monday, June 20, 2022
EDITOR”s NOTE: The follow is a republish of an October 2020 piece by Lee from weekly column. Lee died on June 14 at age 94. His contributions to The Tribune will be greatly missed.
Chuck Yeager was, and is, a quite a character.
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He was the pilot who broke the sound barrier in 1947.
He was born Feb. 13, 1923 in Myra, West Virginia.
He has had some close calls, but survived all of them by being a very skillful pilot.
A friend sent me a picture of a news clipping, but I don’t know which Charleston, West Virginia, paper it was in.
The story tells about him in 1953 flying in a jet from California, probably to visit his folks.
At the time, there was a regatta going on in Charleston, probably the Stern Wheel Regatta. The officials at the regatta knew that Chuck was in the vicinity and contacted his dad and asked if he could ask Chuck fly by Charleston and show the folks a jet plane that most people at that time had never seen.
Chuck was at the Charleston airport and he came roaring off and zoomed across the eastern part of the city.
The folks thought that was it.
Surprisingly enough, he came back right over the river at low altitude. He dropped even lower and flew under the South Side bridge right downtown. Somehow, a plane flying above took a picture of the feat. He was so low that he was leaving a wake on the water. He then zoomed up and headed for California.
He was flying a shooting star, which was the first operational jet in the U.S. Army Air Corps fleet. It was a straight winged plane which was manufactured by Lockheed.
Kelly Johnson and his “skunk works” team designed and had a prototype flying in just 143 days after the design was started. It was before the concept of swept wings, which was originated by the Germans during WWII, was known. It had two engines in the fuselage since they didn’t have a single jet engine powerful enough to use in a fighter.
An interesting fact about how Kelly’s group got the name, their offices were close to a chemical plant that had a terrible stench and that is how the group came up with name. They went on to design the U2 spy plane and the SR71.
A little more about Yeager, I knew him back before he become so well-known which started with his Delco commercials.
One time when I was active in the Air Force Association, I was asked if I would try to get Chuck to come to a meeting where we were going to name the chapter The Chuck Yeager chapter. Someone had learned that he was coming to the area to host some sort of a Boy Scout meeting. I got his address and wrote him a letter. I was surprised that he wrote back in his own handwriting to accept the invitation.
So, I was able to meet him and set up a dinner meeting in the Uptowner motel.
I was able to introduce him at the meeting and he told us about the Air Force mission in Pakistan, but that is another story.
Don Lee was a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport for five decades, where he was in charge of equipment, grounds and maintenance.