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The High-Flying Legacy Of General Chuck Yeager

General Chuck Yeager died on Dec. 7. He was 97 years old. Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier, and regarded as the greatest test pilot of all time.

TPR's Jerry Clayton talked about General Yeager's career and legacy with Maj. Gen. Christopher Azzano. He is the Commander at the Air Force Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Jerry Clayton: You had occasion to meet General Yeager. Tell us what your experience was with him.

Maj. Gen. Christopher Azzano: We were always very pleased when he would visit us here at Edwards Air Force Base at the headquarters of the of the test center. He was a very interesting person to talk to. He obviously had a wealth of experience because of his status and the way he's viewed as an icon. People tended to be in awe of him when he was here. He very much enjoyed talking to a younger test pilots and test engineers, and would regale us with stories of his past going back to when he tested the Bell X1 and was the first person to break the sound barrier. He really enjoyed talking about his time as a fighter pilot in World War II and and was was very proud of his victories against the opponent. He had, I believe, 13 kills and and was an ace several times over. As a result of that, he was very proud of his achievements as a fighter pilot in World War II.

Clayton: I think everyone would agree that Chuck Yeager had the right stuff, so to speak. But was there something different about him that set him apart from other pilots?

Gen. Azzano: I think he would tell you.... he made it very clear that managing risk — and what was often a high risk enterprise — was one of the things that was really, really kind of his signature and frankly, a contribution that he made to the test and evaluation community that that lives on today. And he made a point of getting to know the air vehicle he was about to fly as well as he possibly could. But I really think it was the mindset that he used to approach a new air vehicle that really made him an exceptional test pilot. And and frankly, the guy was fearless. He would get out there and do anything. It's not to say that he was foolish about the way he approached test. He was very methodical and very thoughtful about it. But once he had managed risk and mitigated risk, he would get out there and he would do things like break the sound barrier. He's got just countless achievements throughout his career that distinguished him as an exceptional test pilot.

Clayton: You talk about managing risk. Do you think overall he was more of a risk taker than most?

Gen. Azzano: I think he himself would would have told you that he was a smart risk taker. And I think the test pilots of his time were all venturing into uncharted territory. One of his attributes that I think distinguished him from the others was that he was very aggressive about establishing Air Force pilots as as research pilots, which meant by their nature that they were venturing out into uncharted territory.

Clayton: When you look at Chuck Yeager's career as a whole, what do you feel his legacy is for the Air Force?

Gen. Azzano: I think his legacy, in addition to the fact that he was a decorated and accomplished fighter pilot with 13 kills and that he broke the sound barrier for the first time in the X-1, his legacy really is the culture that he helped develop within the test community. And that is a culture. It's a pioneering spirit. It's a desire to to take risks for national defense, but do it in a way that's smart. And it's a really kind of a culture and an ethos that inspires people to achieve their best and to to serve and to make sacrifices for their nation.

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Jerry Clayton