WASHINGTON, Dec 8 — US aviation legend Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier, has died, his wife announced yesterday.

“It is w/ profound sorrow, I must tell you that my life love General Chuck Yeager passed just before 9pm ET,” Victoria Yeager tweeted on her husband's account.

“An incredible life well lived, America's greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever.”

She did not specify the cause of her husband's death.

A World War II fighter pilot, Yeager, 97, rocketed into history by breaking the sound barrier in the experimental Bell X-1 research aircraft in 1947, helping to pave the way for the US space programme.

“It opened up space, Star Wars, satellites,” Yeager said in a 2007 interview with AFP.

His test pilot exploits were later immortalised in the 1983 Hollywood blockbuster The Right Stuff.

Born on February 13, 1923 in the tiny town of Myra, West Virginia, Yeager grew up fixing pickup trucks alongside his father.

He joined the Army Air Corps in September 1941, three months before the US entered World War II, and started out as an aircraft mechanic before undergoing flight training.

Yeager would go on to set numerous other flight records, but most of his career was spent as a military commander directing US fighter squadrons throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

He retired from the US Air Force in 1975. — AFP