"When your engine fails at 45,000 feet, it's not
the fall that kills you, son; it's the sudden stop." With those
words the man who first broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 in 1947
looked steely-eyed into my lens.
Chuck Yeager was a hero of mine since I was a kid. One day I was
visiting the Los Angeles office of the Air Force Public Affairs Officer.
I told him how exciting it would be to meet Yeager. He casually said,
"Oh yea? I've got his home number right here on my Rolodex. Why
don't you give him a call!"
Well, I did the next day. The phone rang only once
before a crisp and abrupt voice announced, "Yeager here!"
Yikes! I was almost speechless, despite the fact that I had practiced
what to say, and had grown quite used to speaking with important people.
But I managed to squeak out who I was and why I was so keen to
He was kind. He said that, if he liked my work, he would agree to sit
for a portrait. He asked if I could meet him at the Lockheed Aircraft
plant (now the Burbank, California Airport) where he would be attending
a business meeting a few days later.
But I had to leave town on other
business myself, so my agent met him instead to show some of my work. He
and Yeager made arrangements for me to do a shoot in Barstow, in
California's Mojave Desert where, in a few weeks, Yeager was to film a
On site was a P-51 Mustang fighter plane like the one Yeager flew as an
Ace in WWII. I posed him with it. The plane was named after his wife,
the Glamorous Glynnes (sp.) The General signed a print later for me and
wrote on it, "Tom, you sure know how to show the feeling a guy has
for his airplane."
4x5 Wista camera, Plus-X
with Norman 200B battery-powered strobe fill light aimed through a