Many people thought that flying faster than the speed of sound was impossible in an aircraft. Concerns centered around drag damaging the aircraft, preventing speeds topping 767 mph (1234 km/h). Charles ‘Chuck’ Yeager broke the sound barrier 14 October 1947. He was known as one of the greatest military pilots of all time.
Chuck started his career in aviation as a mechanic. He enlisted in the US Air Force in September 1941 at the age of 18. He worked out of George Air Force Base in California. George AFB was opened as an advanced flying school months before Yeager started.
Bell P-39 Airacobra
When the US entered WWII on 7 December 1941, the Armed Forces changed recruiting standards. This change allowed Chuck Yeager to begin flight training. He graduated in 1943 and was promoted to flight officer. He was assigned to the 375th Fighter Group, which operated 125 P-51 Mustang aircraft. To prepare, Yeager was trained on the Bell P-39 Airacobra. The P-39 was also used by the United Kingdom, Soviet Union, Australia, France, Italy, and Portugal due to the mid-engine layout and tricycle undercarriage.
Yeager was station in the United Kingdom at Royal Air Force Leiston, designated to the Eighth Air Force of the United States. In honor of his girlfriend, he named his aircraft Glamorous Glen. After a victory, Yeager was shot down over France on 5 March 1944. Yeager came into contact with the French Resistance. He helped the French in non-direct combat activities. He helped a fellow airman during the trip back to England.
When he rejoined the Eighth Air Force, he was reinstated for flight combat. On 12 October 1944, Yeager brought down five enemy aircraft in one mission. Two of the kills resulted from enemy flying into each other in an avoidance tactic.
Chuck flew his final mission 15 January 1945, he had 61 missions during service. He was promoted to captain and returned to the US at the end of his tour. He relocated to Wright Field near his home in WV.
Over his military career, Yeager received multiple awards. Included in the honors are:
- Bronze Star: given to Armed Forces members for heroic achievement and heroic service in a combat zone
- WWII Victory Medal: given to US military personnel that served during WWII
- Purple Heart: awarded in the name of the President to armed forces personnel that were wounded or killed in service after April 1917
- Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Medal: issued to members that scored above average on weapons qualifications testing
- Distinguished Flying Cross: awarded to officers that display heroism and direct combat operations from the air
Chuck Yeager began test piloting after the war at Edwards AFB (formerly Muroc Army Air Field). During this time, Bell Aircraft was attempting to find a pilot that would help them break the sound barrier. To surpass the barrier, an aircraft would need to accelerate beyond 767 mph. The Bell pilot that was scheduled for the attempt asked for too much money – and refused.
Chuck Yeager stepped up to the plate. Shortly before the flight, Yeager broke two ribs after falling from horseback. Knowing that this injury would prevent the flight, he had a local doctor patch him up. He successfully broke the sound barrier 14 October 1947.
After retiring from service, Yeager began consulting work for the Air Force and NASA. He began a partnership with GM and was invited to drive a pace car at the Indy 500 70th Anniversary. He served on the Challenger Spacecraft investigation committee. He took to the skies again for both the 50th and 65th anniversaries of breaking the sound barrier.
To learn more about Chuck Yeager, you can visit www.chuckyeager.com or follow him on Twitter @GenChuckYeager