Beyond his heroics in the skies, it was his attitude that had most influence. Even when strapped into a rocket-powered trashcan he spoke “with a particular drawl, a particular folkiness, a particular calmness”.
Cool, authoritative voices can be drowned out in the general Covid conversation by the howling heretics
Fellow pilots were listening in and started imitating, if not his daredevil feats, his speech. As they left the military and entered commercial service, this style spread and became a stereotype.
“It was Pygmalion in reverse,” Wolfe writes. “Military pilots, and then, soon, airline pilots, pilots from Maine and Massachusetts and the Dakotas and Oregon and everywhere else, began to talk in that poker-hollow West Virginian drawl, or as close to it as they could bend their native accents.”
The spiritual descendants of Yeager still fly our skies. We have calm and composed experts in other fields. You hear them talk about infection rates on the news, the importance of getting your vaccine. You might still get infected but chances are you’re 100 times less likely to die.
Yet cool, authoritative voices can be drowned out in the general Covid conversation by the howling heretics, the rabid RTers.
They’re the plane passenger who really wants to smoke in the toilets or crack open a window. Often a faded Eighties pop star.
A captain in the cockpit wouldn’t put up with a minority who endangers the rest. Neither should we. Although pre-pandemic flying had become so routine, it’s an inherently dangerous activity, as is navigating our socially less distanced, tentatively opening up world.
On a plane, when every second we could plummet to the ground, would we give any credence to someone in the cabin who thought their opinion on the laws of physics were of more value than the pilot’s?
Now day-to-day life is filled with risk that wasn’t there just 18 months ago. But that too is becoming more routine every day. All we can do is tune into those we can trust, tune out the bawling baby kicking the back of your chair.
Hoping for clear skies ahead, we’ve taken care of your in-flight entertainment. In this week’s magazine we have Hollywood highfliers Matt Damon and Guy Pearce as well as a map of film festivals closer to home. And plenty more, of course.
So sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.
Steven MacKenzie is deputy editor of The Big Issue