The Icon: Chuck Yeager
Last week saw the first private space flight in human history, so we thought we’d take a moment to acknowledge one of the men who put his life on the line to make it possible. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Chuck Yeager.
Perfectly Embodied: This is military style at its best. The canvas belt, the windswept khakis and the leather bomber jacket have all aged perfectly. The waistline’s a little higher and the pant cuffs are a little wider than modern style would dictate (it was the '40s, after all)—but otherwise this is the north star for a whole bloc of the menswear crowd. See also: the haircut and the smirk.
Words of Wisdom: I was always afraid of dying. Always. It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane.
The Backstory: "Everything," in this case, really does mean everything. Yeager studied the machines he was flying exhaustively, and it saved his life countless times. He broke the sound barrier in ’47 (everyone else had flamed out and ejected) and set the air speed record at Mach 2.44 six years later. In his last test flight, the training jet spun out of control 21 miles above the ground. He became the first person to make a pressurized emergency ejection and decided to give the daredeviling a rest.
Gutsy Move: Gutsy doesn’t begin to cover it.
The Takeaway: Jet pilots are a surprisingly mystical bunch (exhibit A), especially the ones that ended up staking their lives against the limits of human technology. A lot of the clichés of manhood started here—the stubbornness, the fatalism, Draper-esque reticence—and it’s worth remembering what the men of the day were up against.