Documenting Chuck Yeager

Chuck Yeager is the subject a new documentary by John Chimples (inset).

    John Chimples sat before two large screens at his house in Ditch Plain, Montauk, one day last month. He clicked a link and one of the screens came alive with the image of an older man wearing a wry smile and wrinkled features earned in ways that most human beings can barely imagine.
    He fixed the camera lens with blue eyes that were warm, perhaps a bit wary, and began speaking the West Virginia dialect that sounds as close to America’s mother tongue as one is likely to hear. Down to earth might be a good description of his demeanor if Chuck Yeager, combat pilot, test pilot, first man to break the sound barrier, had been able to stay on the ground during his 88 years.
    “The Right Stuff” was how Tom Wolfe defined the brash, understated can-do of a man whom Mr. Chimples has been filming for over a year now. Although he said the documentary was about a year away from completion, the filmmaker and recent candidate for a spot on the East Hampton Town Trustee board seemed hardly able to contain his excitement over what he already has in the can.  
    Last month, Mr. Chimples traveled to Edwards Air Force Base in California on the occasion of the 64th anniversary of Mr. Yeager’s breaking the sound barrier while piloting Glamorous Glennis, the Bell X-1 jet he named for his wife. The sonic boom was first heard on Oct. 14, 1947. To celebrate the achievement, Mr. Yeager broke it again, this time in a F-106. He had a co-pilot in the double-seated warplane, but was at the controls at Mach 1.
    Mr. Chimples filmed him retelling the story of how he broke the barrier — a feat that engineers were not certain either the plane or Mr. Yeager could survive. He succeeded despite the pain of having fractured several ribs the day before while goofing around on horseback, and after fashioning a lever out of a broomstick handle — unbeknownst to higher authorities — that enabled him to overcome his handicap enough to close the X-1’s hatch.
    The story is dramatically told in Tom Wolfe’s book, but Mr. Chimples said the famous pilot added a few wrinkles on film.
    He clicked on another link and Mr. Yeager appeared again, this time filmed in the countryside about 50 miles southeast of Bordeaux, where he had parachuted from his P-51 fighter during World War II after losing a dogfight with a German aircraft on his ninth mission. The filmmaker has archival film of aerial battles shot from airplane gun cameras.