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Yeager sets the record straight

"Since there have been so many versions of my flying under the South Side Bridge I thought I would explain once and for all what really happened.

After spending the weekend with Dad and Mom in Hamlin, Dad drove me to the Charleston Airport on October 10, 1948.  After showing Dad some of the systems in the P-80 and how they worked, I crawled into the cockpit.

There was no air traffic control in those days and we didn’t have to file a flight plan for the 15-minute flight to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio.  I had talked to no one and had no idea there were boats on the Kanawha River.  So no one, including me, had prior knowledge that I was going to fly under the bridge.  I flew east around the Capitol, saw the river and decided to drop down on the river.  I then saw the South Side Bridge.  It looked as if it had 10 or 12 feet of clearance between the bridge and the river, which was plenty.

Remember, Paul Bowles and I had learned how to fly low over Germany in the war to stay alive, and we were very good at it.

As I passed under the bridge, I saw the boats on the river for the first time.  I was indicating over 500 miles per hour and I was on them before I realized it.  I only made one pass.  We learned in the war to only make one pass; the enemy will get you on the second one.  As I said before, I had no idea there were boats on the river; I had talked to no one, including Paul Bowles.

When I took off I had no idea I would buzz the river, but it looked like a good challenge, so I took it.  Remember, I had been doing this for years and was not new at it.

Some of the Air Guard types got their noses bent out of shape claiming that I wasn’t disciplined, but they hadn’t been in a war where one had to fly that way.  That kind of flying had kept me alive over Germany and later over Korea, Vietnam and Pakistan."

Chuck Yeager, a retired brigadier general with the U.S. Air Force, lives in California.

Source: The Charleston Gazette, April 28, 2010.

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