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Yeager Marks 40th Anniversary Of Breaking Sound Barrier

October 14, 1987 GMT

HAMLIN, W.Va. (AP) _ Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, returned to his hometown Wednesday to mark the 40th anniversary of his feat with a toned-down exhibition of the sort of flying that used to give his neighbors the ame the first man to break the 700 mph barrier in an experimental aircraft so secret that for years the world thought the accomplishment belonged to the British. The flight in the Bell X-1 launched the Space Age, but to Yeager, then 24, it was just another job for a young test pilot.

Now a retired brigadier general, he came home to help dedicate a bronze statue depicting him in the Air Force flight gear he wore four decades ago. President Reagan sent his regards.

″Little did I realize when I left this town to join the Army Air Corps in September 1941 ... that I would come back here to see a statue of myself in front of Hamlin High School, where I spent so many wicked days,″ said Yeager.

Yeager started Wednesday’s celebration by swooping low over town in an fighter jet, spiraling down from a cloudless blue sky to make four passes across town and departing with a final barrel roll.

He returned a few hours later with a companion, and the two pilots - this time in Marine Harrier jets - again swooped over Hamlin.

″We could have landed that thing out there on the highway,″ Yeager said. ″But we probably would have ended up in jail.″ He flew back to the nearest airport and returned to Hamlin by helicopter.

The flights were a tamer version of the greetings townspeople remember fom a younger and more reckless Yeager, who was sometimes accused of scaring the neighborhood cows into miscarriages and blowing down entire fields of corn with his low-flying salutes.

″I thought he’d come in a little lower,″ said resident Sharrell Lovejoy after the morning’s flights. ″He’s put on some real shows over Hamlin over the years. There have been times when he knocked near all the leaves off the trees.″

The town was a tiny community of 400 residents when Yeager was growing up in the 1930s, and the population has grown to all of 1,200.

The influx of out-of-town visitors for the celebration, including Gov. Arch Moore, finally made the town’s new stoplight - the only one in all of Lincoln County - seem necessary.

″I want to thank all the citizens of Hamlin for not getting mad at me for making so much noise this morning,″ Yeager said. ″This is about the only town in the United States where you can still do that kind of thing.″

Yeager flew the F-4 Phantom from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the center of the nation’s military aeronautical research program, to his hometown for aerial photos he will give to the town.

The almost legendary pilot, who now lives in Grass Valley, Calif., said earlier in the day that he never had a burning desire to fly.

″Even today, it’s fun to fly airplanes, but really it’s just like driving a car. The newer an airplane is, the more fun it is to fly because of the technology,″ he said.

″I really never flew to set records in the old days because we were just research pilots doing research flying, and it just so happened we were flying the fastest stuff, obviously,″ he said.

He finally got widespread recognition because of Tom Wolfe’s book, ″The Right Stuff,″ and the movie based on it. The 64-year-old Yeager now endorses automotive products and serves as a consultant for Northrop Aircraft and McDonnell Douglas Corp. His autobiography became a best-seller.