Passings: Chuck Yeager, world’s greatest pilot, who loved fishing in Alaska

12
370


SPENT MANY DAYS OVER MANY YEARS IN SOUTHEAST ALASKA

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles “Chuck” Yeager, who was the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound, has died at the age of 97.

Yeager was the pioneering pilot whose authentic West Virginia drawl, skill, calmness under pressure, and fearlessness made him an American icon. He never had a college degree, and so could not join the space program, but he said, “I like to fly, and capsule riding was not flying to me.”

Yeager visited Alaska many times and loved salmon fishing from Southeast to Southcentral.

He visited the Gildersleeve floating logging camp on Prince of Wales Island when it was at Whale Pass, where he fished in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. He sometimes piloted the Louisiana Pacific jet that brought Harry Merlo, who was the CEO of Louisiana Pacific. Keaton Gildersleeve recalled one of the last times Yeager had visited the logging camp, which was when it had been floated to the Behm Canal area, north of Ketchikan. Gildersleeve said Yeager was impressed that the workers came and went via floatplane.

In 2010, Yeager fished in Alaska with Clay Lacy, National Aviation Hall of Fame inductee, aviator Cliff Robertson, and others. They flew to the state in a Citation V. He fished near Craig, and also near Yakutat that year, at the mouth of the Tsiu River.

Fishing in Alaska, landing by helicopter.
One last tour of Alaska in 2018.

Other little-known facts about Chuck Yeager:

  • He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a private in Sept. 1941 because flight training required a college education, and he had but a high school diploma.
  • World War II created a need for more pilots. In spite of his 20/10 vision, Yeager was accepted for flight training.
  • During his first combat mission, he named his P-51 fighter-bomber “Glamorous Glennis” after his girlfriend Glennis Dickhouse. The two married after the war.
  • He was shot down over France in March, 1944, on his 8th mission. His rescuers were French resistance members, and he stayed with them for two months and built bombs with them, using the techniques he had learned from his own father.
  • Yeager was awarded a Bronze Star for rescuing another downed airman, who was severely injured. He carried the man over the Pyrenees Mountains from France to Spain, and then got him into the care of the British at Gibraltar.
  • When he was 89 years old, he few in the backseat of a F-15, breaking the sound barrier. It was 65 years to the day after he had been the first in history to do so.
  • Possibly his last trip to Alaska was in 2018, at age 95. That year he also attended a West Virginia Air National Guard Air Show at Yeager Airport to celebrate the 71st anniversary of his breaking the sound barrier.

If you have a memory of Chuck Yeager in Alaska, please add it in the comments below.

12 COMMENTS

  1. My father was in the Air Force and I was exposed to aviation at a very young age. I’ve had the privilege to see many great people fly aircraft of all types at various air shows my father would take me to and ones that I’ve attended later in life. One in particular was an air show up in Bangor, Maine at Dow Air Force Base in 1962. One of the military test pilots in attendance wasat that time, Col. Charles “Chuck” Yeager, showing off a static display of the Bell X-1, in which he had broke the sound barrier. At the time, I had no idea what it meant, but it was still very cool and it made a lasting impression on a very young mind. I’ve been involved in aviation ever since. The world has lost a very brave and outstanding warrior and pioneer in the aviation field. It also makes me feel my age … uughh!

  2. I met him personally in the mid-90’s at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Surprised how short he was. Maybe most test pilots back then were short.

  3. I had the privilege of fishing In Bristol Bay with retired Brig. Gen. Yeager a few times over 20 years ago. He was a talented fly fisher. He did not hesitate to share and describe in some detail his past achievements. The stories were awesome. His memory was still razor sharp. And amazingly his vision was still 20/20 or better uncorrected. . He was quite the “man”. He stood out in the best generation.

  4. Thanks for recognizing the passing of a great aviator. I had the honor of working with him at Edwards Flight Test Center as a young buck, and his inspiration taught us all to never say no to a challenge, just find what works and develop it. His contributions to aviation show that a college degree ain’t everything.

  5. Yeah he was an awesome man and it’s unfortunate that he didn’t formally get into space. They put Glenn in a shuttle for a ride and Jager was probably in better shape than he was. At the time when we were rolling out the astronauts, he was thought to be too old. Chuck proved this wrong and became the first man into space. He flew the x-15 so high that he could see the blackness of space and the Stars above him where there used to be blue sky. He started to lose control because there was no air on the control surfaces of the rocket plane so he had to throttle down but make no mistake he was the first man in space he just didn’t achieve orbit.

  6. It was an honor to host General Yeager and his fishing pard Harry Merlo , a legend in his own right, at our logging community in the early-mid 1980’s. Our floating community at that time, was located up Behm Canal just north of Ketchikan . We were all pilots, my dad J.R. GIldersleeve slapped his knee as Gen. Yeager regaled us with his flying tales. General Yeager was a true modern day explorer and adventurer. His stories and his legend lives on.
    R. Keaton Gildersleeve

    • Hey R. Gildersleeve,

      You are not by chance originally from Michigan, are you? I knew an R. Gildersleeve in elementary and junior high school in Redford, Michigan way back when (1970s).

  7. I read with interest his life story many years ago, and always wanted to meet him and shake his hand.
    I never got the chance.
    .
    I have often thought over the years, what an incredibly brave thing it was to break the sound barrier for the first time.
    Many people told him beforehand that at the moment his plane broke the barrier, it would vaporize.
    Others of course told him that was bunk.
    But still, it had never been done by man before he did it, and so I have often thought about what guts it took to do it, to be the first person to crash though that mystical barrier, without knowing for sure that he would survive.
    He did it without a moment’s hesitation. Nobody can ever question his bravery. Nobody…..

    • It was an honor to meet Chuck Yeager and shake his hand at an event here in Alaska in the 80s. As a young avid flyer back then, I was awe-stricken to have that privilege by just being in the reception line. As an older person now, I wish I could pass that experience on to you.

  8. Hmmm would like to correspond with you but not sure this is the appropriate venue, as suppose to be for tributes and thoughts re. General C Yeager.
    For this short time….our Gildersleeve’s 1600’s Connecticut, then a branch to Cloud Co. Kansas. Others to???
    I’m new to this type of communication.

    Don’t know how to communicate further.
    BEST to you
    R. Keaton G.

Comments are closed.