Reading assignment for this week:
Chuck Yeager’s autobiography:
Think you’re tough? 67 years ago today (October 14th), Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the X1 experimental jet plane. He did this despite a broken rib that he kept secret.
The cause of the broken rib was an unfortunate collision with a tree branch the night before the flight. He and his wife were in the habit of having steaks for dinner, and a glass or three of scotch. After that, they often went for a ride on horseback, which usually ended up as a race across the desert. The winner of the race got to have sex with the loser, which strikes me as a wonderful arrangement.
Racing under the moonlight, they came to a tree with a branch extending out to the side. His wife saw it and ducked. Chuck Yeager did not and was “close lined” off the horse by the limb, crashing to the ground and breaking a rib or two. His wife told him they had to call the leaders and abort the planned flight for the next day. He refused, and had her tape his ribs up so tightly that it was hard to breathe. The only person he told of his plight was the crew member assigned to help him get from the B29 carrying the X1 down into the plane. He stuck a length of broom handle up his sleeve, which he used as a pry bar to close the hatch, which he could not do with his one functioning arm.
Even at that, he was not scheduled to break the sound barrier that day, as nobody knew what would happen to the plane in such a circumstance. He got to .99 of Mach 1, muttered an imprecation under his breath, and nailed the throttle. Thus was history made.
This is only one of a great many stories in his autobiography, all of which can be verified by official records. He was the only pilot in WWII to be shot down, put in a prisoner of war camp, escape to freedom, and then talk his way back to duty. It was common practice at the time to retire pilots who had lived through the horrors of a prisoner of war camp once, as it was thought they could never survive if put in the same situation again. He argued his way all the way up to General Dwight Eisenhower before being allowed to return.
His life story is full of impossible challenges and unlikely success on every page, and is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read.
Chuck Needham’s autobiography:
There are many weird parallels in Needham’s life to Chuck Yeager’s.
Both had childhoods of deep poverty. Both had very little education. Needham rose to fame as a Hollywood stunt man, simply by agreeing to do everything he was asked to do. Along the way he became a stunt coordinator. There he got to be friends with Burt Reynolds, and it was his idea to produce the movie that made them both famous, along with a black Pontiac Trans Am with a gold “screaming chicken” decal on the hood. He also owned a successful NASCAR racing team, and careened from one adventure to the other, including several wives. Marriage was one area where he was not as successful as Yeager.
Can’t recall the title of either book, but you need to find them and read them. You’ll have a new horizon for what you’re capable of.
David Preston Copyright 2014