A 700 Mile Bounce


Yeager and the NF-104A

While researching the Century Airline crash killing two people when it slammed into Castle Rock and burst into flames during March of 1980, I learned about a crash that began while 21-miles above the Mohave Desert. On that Tuesday, December 10th, 1963, the jet was being test-piloted by Colonel Chuck Yeager.

A newspaper report from the following day reads, “His rocket-boosted NF-104 Starfighter smashed to earth near the intersection’s of U.S. 6 and U.S. 466, one of the most heavily traveled points in a desert area otherwise free of traffic or habitation.”

The intersection has since been replaced by SR-14 and SR-58. But what makes this so unique is that pieces of that Starfighter were found only seven miles west of Crescent City, California, roughly 700-miles from where the crash originated.

Aerospace historian Peter W. Merlin writes, “We first visited this site in 1992. It has been picked over quite a bit since then by a number of people including some who were selling the pieces. In 2011, we took Yeager to the site, the first time he had been back since 1963.”

Yeager’s most famous flight came 16-years earlier in 1947, when he flew the X-1 rocket plane at 700 miles-per-hour to become the first man to break the sound barrier. Tom Wolfe adapted the 1963 crash in his 1979 book, “The Right Stuff,” and later depicted in the 1983 movie based on the book.

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