October 21st, 2012

What a day. Started at 6am.

The day before a friend had picked us up at our local general aviation airport, flew us through the Sierras to Nellis AFB. I had brought sandwiches so we checked into VOQ, chowed down, had a short rest, and went off the to Flight Surgeon for a check. Very informed and informative doctors. Next was egress systems. Without being cheeky, Gen Yeager might have taught them a thing or two. After being checked out in the cockpit, he carefully examined everything in the backseat. This attention to detail is one of the many reasons General Yeager is held in high esteem by the maintenance guys and gals.

Even if he has flown the same type and model before, if it’s a different airplane, he’ll ask them to check him out. Lots of pilots will just jump in and go fly. Not a good idea. Each plane has its own idiosynchracies.

After reviewing with his co-pilot, and then studying a bit himself, he pointed to something and said, “Has this always been in there – from the first F-15s?”

The pilot didn’t know as he hadn’t been around since the 1980’s, but he thought so. Maybe.

I realized later: General Yeager had never been in the backseat of an F-15.  Or rarely.

After these preparations were complete, we went to one of the 65th Aggressor Squadron pilot’s homes for a squadron party with families. What a nice group of people! And the food was great as well.

A gentleman had bought for all of us a grand Italian dinner. We had driven up the same time he had so we all helped him bring in the food. I almost just took the tin foil platter of meatballs and went off by myself. They smelled GOOD!

After some chatting, talking, eating, and then some more eating…

One of the little girls was checking into a chocolate gooey thang and said What’s in this? We found the chef/Mom who had made it: chocolate, peanut butter….little girl was happy. In fact, it drew all the little girls.

Someone else asked and I told them. She: Did you make it?

Me: No.

She (accusatory…sort of): How did you know what was in it?

Why do I get all the hard questions?  Me:  I….asked. (Is this a trick question?)

After I ate all I could: artichoke dip thing, a different artichoke dip thing, caesar salad, meatballs, pizza, dessert, artichoke dip thing….Oops going around again. I did too – we did some photo taking with each family and then we headed off to bed.

The alarm was set for 6:30am Sunday, October 14, 2012. Sixty-five (65) years after Gen Yeager woke up to break the sound barrier for the first time. His life would change that day in 1947. But this day we were up at 6.

I gave General Yeager a t-shirt to wear under his flight suit – one of the Oak Ridge Boys. They were going supersonic with the General today. Okay. They weren’t. But their photos on the T-shirt were.

The guys picked us up at 7:15am for a 7:30am briefing. The briefing was outstanding. General Yeager gave them some pointers on how and where to make the sonic boom so that Edwards would hear it. They had had some concerns about pinpointing it. I pointed out that, after 65 years of breaking the sound barrier, sometimes for air shows for the Air Force; Gen Yeager knows exactly.

The guy asking conceded.

I was reminded of an air show approx 10 years or more earlier. Gen Yeager was going to fly a P-51 but it didn’t arrive in time. Another retiree was slated to fly an F-15 and Gen Yeager was going to fly on his wing.

However, the retiree did not show up. General Yeager was not current or prepped, so another officer but who was current, stepped in. General Yeager was giving him pointers esp as it was a perfect day to see the shock wave. WOW! I was looking forward to that.

He generously and courteously told the General just what to do to have a great result. The General , who had never flown in an air show or to purposefully place a shockwave and sonic boom, impatiently said, I know what I’m doing!

Well. It’s just not a good idea to say that to General Yeager when he’s offering his help.

A little while later, after the other General had taken off, while I was chatting with Pete and Gail Knight; I heard a slight whisper – like a fffffff-t.

It took a moment for all of us to realize what it was – Gen Yeager said, I can hear a gnat f–t louder than that!  – and what it wasn’t.

No boom. And no seeing the shock wave through the stratus.

The other general’s wife said: I guess he doesn’t have a job after he retires.

Much later, the general said to me smiling: They said they heard it in the housing area and it was a big boom.

Me (laughing good-naturedly): They work for  you, General!


Back at the briefing Sunday, Oct 14, 2012: General Yeager also gave them the team the best route to Edwards and to breaking the sound barrier.

We finished the briefing and went to put on the gear.

Gen Yeager: Miles of string.

Then we headed out to the planes. The day before I had been asked if Gen Yeager wanted stairs or a ladder. I said, Ask him. He often surprises me. (I’d take the stairs).

When they asked him, he said ladder – it was already up. And he was the mountain goat as Prince Malik would say – he raced right up the ladder. Now getting into the cockpit is no easy feat. For anyone. At any age.

But he did it and quite gracefully. He was about to fly his favorite plane today to fight a war: F-15. Best plane for the money.

Once in, the maintenance guys helped with the gear, made sure everything was connected. We waited because they had gotten through everything early and they didn’t want to take off early and run out of fuel for the whole mission.

General Yeager called out – he wanted to give me his blue hat with the star to hold onto. I asked the maintenance guy to toss it down – but he didn’t want to risk it so carried it down to me. After another several minutes, Gen Yeager called to me to come on up. I did.

That was challenging – that ladder and getting to a sitting position on the wing. I prayed I didn’t fall -that would hurt…if I survived. I peered into the cockpit – as General Yeager explained the different gauges and buttons.

Most of the basic flight gauges were very familiar – since I was now a licensed pilot. The weapons systems were an addition to my knowledge.

The time drew near. Getting onto the ladder….made it. I climbed down and moved off quite a distance. One sure doesn’t want to get sucked up into those engines and spit out.

They closed the canopy, started the engines. We all put our earplugs in. After they started moving, turned the corner, we jumped into a van and drove out to the runway to watch them taxi past.

The General is ready to go (Photo to come)Ready to go

Gen Yeager ready to taxi

Photo by Lawrence Crespo, Nellis AFB, NV

They went to a holding area – they were still 7 minutes early for take-off. Time stood still. Finally, they started rolling again to take position on the runway.

Gen Yeager armed & ready

General Yeager armed and ready

Photo by 1st Airman Jason Couillard, Nellis AFB, NV

Gen Yeager waved at me. The PIC did a sort of yee haw wave…and they started racing down the runway. As he lifted off, the fire came out of the engines as they raced toward the blue sky. The second aircraft took the active (runway) and followed.

Within seconds, you couldn’t see them. Nothing to do but wait until they returned. We wouldn’t hear the boom – I had tried to get someone to skype or call me so I could hear it, but to no avail.

But at exactly the minute, if not the second General Yeager broke the sound barrier 65 years ago, he broke it again last Sunday, October 14, 2012. Later reports from some celebrators at Edwards AFB confirmed it was a loud sonic boom. As I said…:-)

At the appointed hour, we raced back to the end of the runway. Our choice was: be where he landed or be where he did his razor turn. Hard choice.

After flip flopping as well as any politician, I chose the turn. Others chose the landing. We were chatting when I saw the two-ship coming right at us. Looking beautiful! All of could say was the ever so eloquent: “Wow!….Wow!….Wow!”

Everyone looked at me, looked where I was looking. They flew right over us and Yeager broke first. Quite a back drop with Las Vegas skyline behind him. The other broke. I thought, they weren’t all that low. Darn. We watched Yeager do the approach and suddenly he was taking off again! This time he flew by much lower and that razor turn was even more cool….with the Las Vegas skyline in the background.

He came in for a landing and we watched him roll out. He turned in front of us, waved. After he passed us, we scrambled in the car and raced to a good spot. After stopping for a check, the F-15 with General Chuck Yeager taxied through the arch of water from the fire trucks. A beautiful sight.

General Yeager’s F-15 gets a bath  Yeager & F-15 get a bath

General Yeager and his F-15 get a bath after breaking the sound barrier again 65 years to the minute after the first time

Photo by Lawrence Crespo, Nellis AFB, NV

After it’s bath, it stopped right in front of me and the canopy lifted off.

The PIC turned and shook Gen Yeager’s hand. They each got out – by ladder. The 30 year old and the almost 90 year old – like mountain goats.

Gen Yeager did some photos with the maintenance guys, a couple of autographs for them – he truly honors them. His father had said, Never forget where you came from, Son.” And Yeager came from maintenance. Then more people wanted photos but Gen Yeager took a quick personal pit stop.

The young fighter pilot took Yeager’s place in front of the cameras and press.

He said: “It was the best flight of my life – to fly with my hero.

In answer to a question re how Gen Yeager held up: he said, “He held up better than me.” Very gracious, truthful :-) fellow. And just the right one to fly with General Yeager.

As the young pilot was talking, his wife and I were standing together enjoying the moment. Her husband, a maverick, is all about the flying and accomplishing the mission well. Same as my husband.  It occurred to one of the press that Gen Yeager was almost 3x as old as this fighter pilot.

Stay tuned for Part 2…..


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