The Right Stuff: Chuck Yeager Wows Students in Reno with tales of Flying Jets and Breaking the Sound Barrier

Test pilot Chuck Yeager flew faster than the speed of sound with the Bell X-1 in 1947

Test pilot Chuck Yeager flew faster than the speed of sound with the Bell X-1 in 1947

General Chuck Yeager recently shared his incredible story of blasting through the sound barrier with students, teachers and guests at Sage Ridge School in Reno.  The parents of  Matthew Johnston, a senior at the school, invited Yeager to visit and talk about his adventures flying jets.

Yeager surprised the audience when he told them that only four people worked on the Bell X-1, the jet that would propel him through the sound barrier and into the history books.  "Nothing was ever done on the X-1 that I didn't do," he told students.  He laughed and said that today it takes hundreds of people to design a military jet.  And millions of dollars.  Yeager says the military spent 68 thousand dollars for every P-51 Mustang fighter plane built during WWII.  Today fighter jets cost upwards of 150 million dollars each.

Yeager enlisted in the Army Air Corps after he graduated from high school.  He didn't start out as a pilot, and says he got terribly sick during his first flight in the back seat of a military plane.   Eventually he was hooked and began flight school in 1942.  In 1947 the military was trying to find a way to fly beyond Mach 1, faster than the speed of sound.  Yeager was a relatively young pilot who had flown combat missions in WWII.  "Why was I picked to fly the X-1?  Because I knew that jet better than anyone else," he said.  He told the students that other pilots may have been more experienced fliers, but he knew the systems on the airplane, and taught himself what to do if something went wrong.

Patrick Johnston, Chuck Yeager and Matthew Johnston at Sage Ridge School in Reno

Patrick Johnston, Chuck Yeager and Matthew Johnston at Sage Ridge School in Reno

One of the teachers asked Yeager if he had any advice for the kids.  "Nobody ever gave me any advice," he said.  But he did encourage the students to work hard and pay attention to detail.  He says he always looked for trouble spots that might "bust his butt" in an airplane.  He believes thinking ahead and paying attention kept him alive during combat, and later as a test pilot.

When asked if he ever thought about quitting, he said, "One thing you have to realize is why military guys like myself do things; it's Duty.  That was my job."  Another asked if, as a kid, he ever thought he'd accomplish such amazing feats.  Yeager chuckled, "We have a saying in the military, if they tell you to do something and you don't do it, they shoot you."  That drew a big laugh from the audience.

Yeager retired in 1975, but in 1997 he hopped in a jet and broke the sound barrier again– this time in front of thousands of people– to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his successful flight in the Bell X-1.  He still consults and flies at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  He didn't set out to become famous, and says he was just doing what was necessary to further the country's mission.

Students at Sage Ridge School in Reno listen to Chuck Yeager talk about flying supersonic

Students at Sage Ridge School listen to Chuck Yeager talk about flying supersonic

The students were thrilled to share a room with the man who helped pave the way for future space exploration.  "I'm very glad I heard him.  I never thought I'd get so much knowledge about flying a plane," said seventh grader George Shappell.  "He had to be very focused and not many people could pull that off," he added.

The students gave Yeager a standing ovation when he took the stage and after he was finished speaking.  Proving that even today's teens recognize and respect someone who works hard and has the right stuff.

Citibank finds a way to Avoid Cancellation after Thirty Years. Priceless.

My first new car.

My first new car.

Update:  I got a call from the same nice lady who monitors the Twitter feed and she had good news.  Citibank found a way to keep my account open after all.  So this story has a happy ending.  They even managed to lower my rate going forward, instead of raising it.  That is priceless.

There are some things you always remember;  your first love, your first car and, in my case, my first credit card.  I was a young co-ed fresh out of college with my first real job and it was time to choose a credit card.  The offers were many, but I chose Citibank.  To this day, the card sits in my wallet.  But now that's all changing.

Recently Citibank decided to raise the interest rate on my card to a whopping 29.9%.  And furthermore, if I didn't accept, they'd close the account.  Just like that.  I called, thinking there was some mistake.  "I've been a customer for nearly 30 years," I said.  Doesn't matter.  "I'll write my Senator, Harry Reid of Nevada," I said.  "Tell him it's his fault," the voice from Citibank said.  He's the one pushing banking reforms.

I was in shock.  "They'll change their mind," I told myself.  "They'll want me back!"  For the past thirty years when others would send me offers of extra points, or low rates, I threw them in the trash and stuck by my Citicard.  I guess I'm just loyal that way.

After talking to several customer service agents at Citibank, I finally got a very nice woman who monitors the company's Twitter account.  She had seen my tweet, lamenting our parting after so many years.  She was sweet and understanding.  "There's nothing we can do," she told me.  "I'm very sorry."

I told her my Citicard has seen me through my first car, my first house, marriage, kids, trips to Europe. You know, memories.  I guess what disappoints me most is that all those moments mean more to me than they do to my bank.  I can get another credit card; it's the principle that counts.

So, it's farewell to my familiar friend.  To the card that has been in my wallet since I was 22 years old.  And, don't be surprised at this:  Citibank just sent me an offer to sign up for one of their new credit cards;  if I fill out an application first.  Priceless.

Principal Comes out of Retirement to Help Mariposa Academy after Unexpected Death of the School's Director

Students gather around interim Principal Neil Schott at Mariposa Academy in Reno

Students gather around interim Principal Neil Schott at Mariposa Academy in Reno

Retired principal Neil Schott got a call on a Sunday night recently, asking if he'd consider coming out of retirement to take the reins temporarily at Reno's Mariposa Academy.  The school needed a principal after director George Ullom died unexpectedly.  "It was a very urgent situation for the school and I thought I could help out," Schott said.  He asked when they'd need him.  "They said 'how about tomorrow?'"  The next day at 7:30 am he showed up at the school ready to work.

I dropped by on day seven to tour the school and see how Schott's doing in his new, interim position.  He seems to have hit the ground running.  As we walked around the small campus, students smiled and greeted him by name.  Schott, who retired as principal of Hunter Lake Elementary school in 2009, says everyone has been great.  "I absolutely love the kids, they're all very welcoming to me, the staff has been very welcoming to me," he said.

Students quiz each other on math at Reno's Mariposa Academy

Students quiz each other on math at Reno's Mariposa Academy

Mariposa Academy has 170 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.  It's Nevada's only dual language charter school, teaching english and spanish.  It's a close-knit community and the death of George Ullom hit them hard.

The school is holding it's first annual Legends of Mariposa fundraising event on Thursday, April 21st at 5:30 pm at the UNR Student Union Ballroom.  Admission is free, but people are encouraged to bid on silent auction items to help support the school.

"The fundraising we do allows us to do extra things for the school, whether it's technology or extra books for the library," Schott says.  There will be wine and appetizers and entertainment provided by some of the students.  For more information, contact the Mariposa Academy at (775) 826-4040.

En Garde! Expert Fencers to share Techniques at Local Libraries

The Reno Silver Blades will offer fencing demonstrations at two Washoe County Libraries on April 16th, 2011

The Reno Silver Blades will offer fencing demonstrations at two Washoe County Libraries on April 16th, 2011

If you've always dreamed of being a swashbuckler, now's your chance to catch some expert fencing and give the blades a try, at your local Washoe County library.  The Reno Silver Blades are holding a demo day this Saturday at the North and South Valleys libraries.  They want to share the thrill of fencing with everyone young and old.

The Reno Silver Blades also works with the High Desert Fencing Alliance to bring foil, epee and saber programs to Northern Nevada.  The two programs have produced some very competitive fencers.

The Blades tell me former Olympian Skip Shurtz recently relocated to Reno and should be on hand during the library demos.

Fencing can also be a family sport.  Imagine a place where kids can parry with their parents, shout "En Garde" and try to stab them without getting in trouble.  The fencing demonstrations will be held Saturday, April 16th at 10:30 am at the South Valleys library, and at 1 pm at the North Valleys library.  Call 337-8449 for more information.  And stow your pirate gear at the door.