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December 8, 2020

Chuck Yeager, First to Break the Sound Barrier, Dies at 97

Ask students: Why do you think Chuck Yeager rose to become such a prominent figure in American life? What did you find most impressive about Yeager’s life?


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Chuck Yeager: A Legend Faster Than Sound

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles “Chuck” Yeager, the World War II fighter pilot ace and quintessential test pilot who became the first person to fly faster than sound in 1947, has died. He was 97. Read the full AP obituary for Yeager, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. 

  • Flying faster than sound was a major obstacle in developing aircraft, including spacecraft. As Yeager says, “It wasn’t a matter of not having airplanes that would fly at speeds like this. It was a matter of keeping them from falling apart.”
  • Yeager began flying in the Air Force as during World War II. He enlisted right out of high school and flew fighter planes in Europe. He later helped train astronauts, but was not qualified to become one because he did not have a college degree.
  • Of his record breaking flight, Yeager said, ““Sure, I was apprehensive. When you’re fooling around with something you don’t know much about, there has to be apprehension. But you don’t let that affect your job.”

Chuck Yeager Discussion Questions 

  1. Who is Chuck Yeager, and what did he do that was important to the development of high speed flight?
  2. What is the sound barrier, and why was it an obstacle for high speed flight?
  3. When and Where did Yeager become the first pilot to break the sound barrier?
  4. Why was Yeager not qualified to be an astronaut, despite being one of the most decorated pilots in the U.S.?
  5. How did Yeager’s test flights contribute to the space program?

Focus Questions

  1. Why do you think Chuck Yeager rose to become such a prominent figure in American life?
  2. What did you find most impressive about Yeager’s life?

Media Literacy:The article attached to this piece is an obituary, or a notice of death with a biographical account. What do you think is typically included in an obituary and what is left out? How do you think news outlets should write obituaries of flawed or harmful people?

Additional Resources

  1. Use this PowerPoint lesson to review the history of transportation and where Chuck Yeager fits in.
  2. NASA continues to explore and expand our knowledge of the universe, in part thanks to Yeager’s contributions. To find out what NASA has accomplished this past year, you can check out this lesson.

Republished with permission from PBS NewsHour Extra.

PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.

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