Yeager, Charles ‘Chuck’

The first man to break the sound barrier, Charles Elwood Yeager, was born in Myra, West Virginia on 13 February 1923 and grew up in the nearby village of Hamlin. Despite growing up in the poverty-stricken backwoods of West Virginia, he graduated from high school in 1941, and as an 18 year-old, immediately enlisted in the Army Air Force Yeager He worked as an aircraft mechanic and completed primary pilot training at Hemet, California, followed by basic in BT-13s at Gardner Field in Taft, and advanced training at Luke Field, Arizona, where he earned his pilot’s wings with Class 43-C on 10 March 1943.

Charles (Chuck) Yeager entered combat in February 1944, served as a flight officer during World War II, and flew 64 missions over Europe for 270 hours. He shot down 13 German aircraft during World War II, and during one of the missions over Germany his plane was shot down. He escaped possible capture with the assistance of the French underground, and was able to return to his unit. After the war he became a flight instructor and later a test pilot. After the war he married Glennis Faye Dickhouse in February 1945.

In 1947 he became a captain, and was selected from over 125 senior volunteer pilots to test-fly the experimental Bell X-1 aircraft. This aircraft was designed to establish whether a straight-wing plane could fly faster than the speed of sound. Another uncertainty was the question of whether a pilot could successfully control the aircraft despite the battering effects of shock waves. They unquestionably gave the test to the most famous test pilot of all times.

For testing purposes the X-1 was attached to the belly of a B-29 mother ship and taken to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,600 metres) over Rogers Dry Lake in California on 14 October 1947. Yeager, who was in the X-1, released the aircraft from the B-29 and shot up to an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,200 meters). Flying 662 miles (1,065 kilometers) per hour with the X-1 undamaged, he became the first person to break the sound barrier. Eight months later, during June 1948, his record was made public after it was declassified.

Chuck Yeager was the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound when he served as a United States Air Force test pilot. He was also the first aviator to exceed a speed of 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers) per hour. Yeager became a fighter ace, a legendary test pilot, a leader of men, and an icon for generations, all while doing what he loved: flying.

Yeager went on to perform test flights for the US Air Force and on 12 December 1953; set a world speed record of 1,650 miles (2,655 kilometres) per hour in an X-1A rocket plane.

His career in aviation made him worthy of the position of commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He took command of the Fourth Tactical Fighter Wing in 1968.

In July 1969 Yeager went to Europe as vice commander of the Seventeenth Air Force where he cooperated with the West Germans in organizing joint exercises and training. At the beginning of 1971 he moved into an entirely different type of assignment when he was appointed U.S. Defence Representative to Pakistan. He returned to the USA during March 1973 to take over as USAF Director of Aerospace Safety at Norton AFB, California. On 25 February 1975, he returned to Edwards Air Force Base for his last official active duty flight in an F-4C Phantom II. When he got out of the cockpit, he had accumulated a total of 10,131.6 hours in some 180 types and models of military aircraft during an extraordinary flying career.

On 28 February 1975 Yeager completed his active duty service during ceremonies at Norton AFB. In 1986, Yeager was appointed to the Presidential Commission investigating the Challenger accident. His autobiography, “Yeager”, was published in 1985.