Test Pilot / Breaking the Sound Barrier

Questions submitted June 16, 2005 on behalf of General Yeager by the General Chuck Yeager Foundation

The copyright belongs to General Chuck Yeager, Inc.

What can go wrong?
Always ask yourself that question, and be prepared with list of possible answers with what to do if it does go wrong. People don't design airplanes to fail - they design them to work to the best of their ability. Then it's up to you to know as much as you can about the systems, so that you can take appropriate action when something does go wrong.

What can I do to keep from killing myself?

Or put another way: What can I do to make this plane better, so that I can respond to what can go wrong and live to tell about it? For example, when we asked this question about the X-1, the answer came back to do something about the lack of a manual system to jettison fuel before landing, in the event of electrical failure. Without that capability, and with a full load of fuel on board that you weren't designed to land with, you'd get yourself blown up. So we put in a backup manual fuel jettison valve and nitrogen bottle. The VERY NEXT DAY, we had complete electrical failure immediately after release from the B-29 mother ship, and needed that manual system to save my life. (ref: Yeager, p.147-148)

Have I practiced enough?
Everyone has natural talents, but you'll fall far short of your maximum capabilities if you haven't exercised those talents thoroughly. The answer is practice, practice, practice. When other pilots had furlough during WWII, they always went partying in London. I usually used the time to practice hand-eye coordination and timing in the cockpit. 21 of the 30 pilots with whom I went to England got killed. I didn't, and I attribute much of my good fortune to lots of practice. (brief reference to this: Yeager, p. 54)

What are the indications that something is not working right in the airplane?
When something goes wrong, it won't always be immediately obvious, and once it is obvious you've lost precious time to respond to it.Learn to question subtle changes in the airplane's behavior or performance, and be ready to interpret what it's trying to tell you.

What can I do to make it work right?
When something does go wrong, you'll only find a way out of your predicament if you keep your cool and focus on finding a solution. Worrying about the possible consequences of a failure won't help you find the answer, it will just waste valuable time and energy.

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