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The wrong stuff? Chuck Yeager, who broke sound barrier, sues Airbus

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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Chuck Yeager, the retired U.S. Air Force pilot who broke the sound barrier, has sued Airbus SE, accusing the aerospace company of using his name and likeness without permission to promote a new high-speed helicopter.

In a complaint filed on Wednesday, the 96-year-old Yeager objected to a June 2017 promotional piece on Airbus’ website, touting its plan to make the Airbus Racer a fast and cost-effective way to fly.

The piece quoted Guillaume Faury, chief executive of Airbus Helicopters, as saying: “Seventy years ago, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier,” and Airbus was now “trying to break the cost barrier. It cannot be ‘speed at any cost.’”

Yeager accused Airbus of trademark infringement and taking away his right of publicity through “fraudulent” conduct, where it deceived the public into believing he endorsed it.

He also called the company a “tainted brand,” citing legal matters involving Airbus and incidents involving its planes.

Airbus did not immediately respond on Thursday to requests for comment. A lawyer for Yeager did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Yeager is seeking compensatory, punitive and reputational damages, as well as restitution.

The lawsuit was filed in the federal court in Santa Ana, California.

Yeager became the first person to break the speed of sound, known as Mach 1, piloting his rocket engine-powered Bell X-1 over southern California on Oct. 14, 1947.

He become familiar to a younger generation 36 years later when the actor Sam Shepard portrayed him in the movie, “The Right Stuff,” based on the Tom Wolfe book.

Yeager said the website piece wasn’t Airbus’s first use of his name and likeness without permission, saying it previously used an unauthorised video of his 2008 visit to the company.

He said Airbus Helicopters had asked for permission to use his name in press releases, but rejected his demand for more than $1 million and veto power over how it was used.

Airbus is headquartered in Toulouse, France.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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