Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager is one of America's best known aviators. A pioneer in test flying and a seasoned combat veteran, he has become a role model for many of today's younger aviators. Entering the US Army Air Corps as a flying sergeant in 1941, his keen eyesight and quick reflexes made him a natural fighter pilot. His first combat assignment was to the European theater as a member of the 363rd Fighter Squadron, the first unit in the Eighth Air Force to receive the new P-51 Mustang. He quickly achieved his first victory over an Me-109 only to be shot down himself the next day in a dogfight over France. With help from the French underground, he evaded the enemy for 3 weeks and hiked over the snow-covered Pyrenees to reach safety.
After returning to his unit, he found that, as an "evader," he was prohibited from flying further combat. Yeager was not to be deferred; however, and he raised his case directly to General Eisenhower. As a result, he was allowed to remain in England, but was limited to local flying and base defense. On his second day back on flying status, the reinstated "evader" sacked a Ju-88 while flying cover for a ditched B-17 crew. Within a week, Yeager was " officially" back on combat status. Tasked to escort bomber formations over Germany, Yeager continued his string of credits to a total of 13, including five victories on a single mission. Additionally, he shot down an Me-262 jet.
After the war, Yeager became a test pilot, and for the next 9 years he was at the forefront of aviation progress. His most famous flight occurred in October 1947, when he became the first man to exceed the speed of sound by piloting the Bell X-1 to Mach 1.07. His last flight in the rocket aircraft established a new record of Mach 2.5, but nearly ended in disaster. On this flight the aircraft became uncontrollable, but Yeager recovered from the ensuing violent spin and landed safely. Returning to operational flying, he commanded numerous fighter units and served as the Director of Aerospace Safety at Norton AFB, California.
Retired from active duty, but not from flying, Brigadier General Yeager continues to fly this nation's most modern aircraft as a consultant for the Air Force and several aerospace companies. The recipient of nearly every aviation award, General Yeager is the only person on active duty ever inducted into the Aerospace Hall of Fame at Dayton, Ohio.
On 14 October 1947, a huge B-29 bomber lumbered into the air at Muroc Air Base, California. Instead of bombs; however, it carried the Bell X-1 research rocket aircraft and its 24-year-old pilot, Captain "Chuck" Yeager. After take-off, Yeager climbed from the bomber down a ladder to the X-1, a task made very difficult by two broken ribs suffered in a riding accident the previous flight. Keeping the injury a secret, he managed to strap himself into the X-1 and, at 20,000 feet, dropped away from the mother ship. Lighting the four rocket motors, he climbed to 42,000 feet and accelerated until the machmeter began to fluctuate wildly. To those monitoring from the ground, a "sound of thunder" announced the sonic boom of man's first supersonic flight.