Sound barrier breaker
It was in January 1942 and I had never been in any airplane in my life. I was a PFC [private first class], a crew chief on an AT-11 bomber trainer, and I had to change the engines. The engineering officer said, “You want to test the airplane?” I said, “I’ve never been in the air.” He said, “You’re really going to enjoy it.” Me being raised in West Virginia it was like me looking over a cliff. He flew some touch-and-go’s and I got really sick. After puking all over myself, I said, “Yeager, you made a big mistake.”
World War II ace; Tuskegee Airman
I had already been reading War Aces and all the old comic books about pilots and the Red Baron and all of that, and that’s why I asked my father to get me a ride in the airplane. The first flight was I guess in 1936 or ’37, when I was nine or 10 years of age. A guy was flying around, selling rides for a couple of bucks. My father paid for it. It was about 10 or 15 minutes. We took off in a little biplane and that was it. I didn’t have a parachute and I didn’t have a helmet; I had a hat on and I was sitting in the back seat of I don’t know what it was.
Stunt pilot; president, Planes of Fame Museum
First time I ever left the ground was in an SNJ-5. I was 15 years old. It was at Ontario, California, at the air museum here, Planes of Fame. I went with a museum pilot, Roscoe Diehl. Roscoe was an Air Force fighter pilot and an Air National Guard pilot; he flew Lockheed F-104s.
I was pretty excited about it. I’d worked on airplanes all my life but I had never even left the ground. He let me grab the stick and said: “Try to break the airplane.” His point was you can’t break it so don’t be too ginger with it. It was like 45 minutes. My best recollection is we took off and circled over Ontario and went over Corona, south of Ontario, and cruised around and did some loops and rolls, some aerobatics.
The same airplane—we still have it at the museum here today. I fly it every once in a while.