America lost a larger-than-life legend Monday when Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager passed away at the age of 97. Yeager, who was from a small town in West Virginia, carved his legacy with rare aviation exploits accompanied by modesty and a well-established gruffness.

During World War II, he shot down at least 11 enemy aircraft and, in 1947, Yeager became the first pilot to break the speed of sound in the experimental Bell X-1 research aircraft, reaching 700 miles per hour.

“General Yeager’s pioneering and innovative spirit advanced America’s abilities in the sky and set our nation’s dreams soaring into the jet age and the space age,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement late Monday. Yeager called that Bell aircraft, and all his others, ”Glamorous Glennis” after his wife, who died in 1990. Shortly after the flight, he said the ride “was nice, just like riding fast in a car,” but he wasn’t reckless or overconfident.

“Sure, I was apprehensive,” he said in 1968. “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.” On the 65th anniversary of that day in 1947, Yeager, then 89, did it again as a passenger in an F-15.

Late in life, Yeager continued flying airplanes, speaking to aviation groups and fishing in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. He gained further fame from the Tom Wolfe book “The Right Stuff,” which was turned into a 1983 Oscar-winning film.

His passing was first reported on Yeager’s official Twitter account by his second wife, Victoria. “It is w/ profound sorrow, I must tell you that my life love General Chuck Yeager passed just before 9pm ET. An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever.” 

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