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Chuck Yeager returns to Sort

October 14th, 1947, the orange Bell X-1 powered by rockets broke the sound barrier, for the first demonstrable time. I won’t debate if it was realy the first or not, let’s say only it was the first time it was properly recorded, measured and checked.

This great event in aviation, apparently so far, maybe it would not be possible if in 1944, Chuck Yeager had not been so lucky to arrive safe and sound to Sort (a catalan spanish village, close to the french border). Ironically, “Sort” in catalan language means “lucky”. Like the one that has not left alone this legendary pilot all along his long aviation career. Like the luck some of the virtual pilots of Aviadores Virtuales Association (AVA) had when we could met Chuck Yearger in person when he returned to Sort, 66 years laters.

Before he jumped to fame as a test pilot, Chuck Yeager flew a P-51 Mustang in the 357º Fighter Group of 8th Air Force in Europe, providing air escort for B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. We have recently seen a Mustang with the colours of the same squadron, in the Festa al Cel Barcelona Airshow in 2010 and 2012.

Well, Chuck Yeager was flying his eighth mission, an escort for the bombers that targeted the Focke-Wulf Fw-190 factory near Bordeaux when he was shot down precisely by one Fw-190.

After falling in parachute, Yeager managed to escape being captured by the germans, and contacted with the french reistance, who guided him, along with two other aviators shot down, to the Pyrenees. From the Pyrenees he had to continue alone, walking four days with almost no food, in very hard contitions, to reach the spanish border. when he crossed, he saw a catalan farmhouse and went in. Farmers gave him a plate of hot soap, then he contiued his evasion. His sqadron leader told him that he had to walk at least ten kilometers inside the spanish border, to avoid being captured by bounty hunters to be returned to the germans that were occupying france in 1944.

Yeager kept walking until he found a Guardia Civil patrol (police brigade). They escorted him to Sort, where they did not make him prisoner, but was confined in a hotel. After some diplomatic agreements, he was released in exchange for gasoline for the spanish Franco’s regime. From Sort to Gibraltar, from Gibraltar back to UK again. From there to a long and great fighter pilot career, to special flight test pilot, and then, the fame, the greatest achievments, and a long life dedicated to aviation, with the final military degree of General.

I can say it now, legends like Yeager are made of flesh and bones like all of us, but their eyes shine with something different and unique inside.
In the few seconds I had to handshake him, I could not ask him what we would reccomend to a young pilot like me on process to obtain the flight license. The response came on the picture he signed to us in the AVA: “Fly safe!” 🙂

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