With the passing of General Chuck Yeager late last year, America didn’t just lose a supersonic pioneer, we lost a symbol of an entire generation, the one defined in large part by World War II and our coming together as a country to defeat the rise of fascism on the European Continent and in the Pacific. To many pilots, Chuck Yeager was the face of that victory, of that generation, which journalist, author and historian Tom Brokaw dubbed “The Greatest Generation,” in his book by that same title. The real story is far more complicated than that, of course, as it always is with tales of heroes. Look no further than the history of the Tuskegee Airmen squadron for proof of that. That’s the nature of the American Experiment.
But if World War II helped shape progress in so many social, cultural and economic ways, making us what we are now, it needs to be asked: With the World War II generation now largely gone, what becomes of aviation with this generational changing of the guard?