Today Charles “Chuck” Elwood Yeager is alive and well at age 97. Chuck Yeager is a former U.S. Air Force officer, flying ace, and record-setting test pilot. In 1947 Yeager became the first pilot in history to exceed the speed of sound in level flight. We’re going to take a look at Yeager’s storied aviation career and find out why Yeager is a true hero in flight.
Yeager’s Early Life
Chuck Yeager was born on February 13, 1923, in West Virginia. His parents were farmers and he grew up in the country. Yeager spent his formative years in West Virginia. His first experience with the military was as a teen at the Citizens Military Training Camp in Indiana. At age 18 he enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Forces and became an aircraft mechanic. He was not eligible for flight training because of his age and educational background.
Yeager Gets His Break
Although Yeager was not eligible for flight training, less than three months later he got his opportunity. The start of World War II prompted the USAAF to change its recruiting standards. Yeager, having unusually sharp vision (20/10) immediately displayed natural talent as a pilot and was accepted for flight training. Yeager received his wings and a promotion to flight officer and graduated from class 43C in 1943.
Yeager was stationed in the United Kingdom and flew P-51 Mustangs in combat with the 363d Fighter Squadron. He named is first plane Glamorous Glen after his girlfriend, who later became his wife. Yeager gained one victory before he was shot down over France in 1944 during his eighth mission. He escaped to Spain with the help of the French Resistance.
Ace in a Day
In late October, Yeager became the first pilot in his group to make “ace in a day” by downing five enemy aircraft in a single mission. Two of the kills were scored without firing a single shot. He finished the war with 11.5 official victories, including one of the first air-to-air victories over a jet fighter.
Breaking the Sound Barrier
Yeager remained in the Air Force after the war, becoming a test pilot at Muroc Army Field which today is Edwards Air Force Base. Test pilot Chalmers “Slick” Goodin offered $150,000 to anyone who could break the sound barrier. The USAAF selected Yeager to fly the rocket-powered Bell XS-1 to research the high-speed flight.
Yeager broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the X-1 Glamorous Glennis at Mach 1.05 at an altitude of 45,000 feet over the Mojave Desert. He was awarded the Mackay Trophy and the Collier Trophy in 1948. Yeager went on to break many other speed and altitude records.