The Right Stuff - Movie

The Right Stuff

Arnold Fischer
3 minutes

The 1983 film has inspired an entire generation of aviation enthusiasts. Any aspiring or young pilot in the 1980s who didn’t see “The Right Stuff”simply couldn’t keep up.

This three-hour epic, which is mostly accurate and – at times – both melodramatic and ironic, addresses America’s need for new heroes, for new legends. It tackles the birth of the US aerospace programme, from breaking the sound barrier – a feat achieved after 1947 by fearless test pilots that enabled the dream of space to be feasible for the first time – right through to the final flight of the Mercury programme in 1963.

The film gives us insights into the pioneering spirit of that time, into the lives of the pilots and astronauts and their families, and into the risks they undertook and the efforts they made to achieve their goals.

Chuck Yeager was a hero of that time, one whose name is now synonymous with the era. He is revered as a fearless gladiator in the battle to attain that mythical speed, a constant dicing with death that he undertook in shoddily constructed planes. He was the first to break the sound barrier, after countless attempts and at tremendous risk to both man and machine.

From a state of shock to the space race

In both reality and film, breaking the sound barrier (at both Mach 1 and Mach 2) was followed by the Mercury space programme. In 1957, the Soviet Union shot the first satellite into orbit, a prestigious technical feat that genuinely shocked the USA. Under pressure and in great haste, the Americans launched their own space programme – after all, the first person in space simply must be an American.

Seven men were selected from among the country’s best military pilots and presented to the American public as dazzling heroes. For months, these men underwent relentless physical tests, only to be overwhelmingly disappointed. After a number of technical failures, NASA sent a chimpanzee into space.

The most significant period in aerospace history

The failure quota of technology – and thus, tragically, of pilots – probably reached its zenith during the period covered by the film. An unfathomable number of airmen perished in their quest for immortality, their sacrifices advancing the aerospace programme tremendously.

Chuck Yeager actually managed to survive all this. After becoming the first person to break the sound barrier – and breaking his ribs in the process – he went on to survive many other record attempts and a crash to become a legend. Today he ranks alongside the Wright Brothers and Otto Lilienthal: aviators who achieved the virtually impossible.

If you find yourself glancing longingly up at the sky on a beautiful day and wishing you were up there, you should watch The Right Stuff – whether for the first time, or for the nth time. Learn more about the supersonic era in this article. 

by Arnold Fischer

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