One of the most highly regarded pilots in American aviation, Charles E. "Chuck " Yeager is best known for piloting the first aircraft to break the sound barrier. Born in 1923 in the hills of West Virginia, Yeager enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September 1941. He initially served as a flight mechanic, but earned his wings after completing the "Flying Officer" program in 1943. Flying P-51 Mustangs with the 363d Fighter Squadron in Leiston, England, he scored his first aerial victory against a Messerschmitt Me 109 on his seventh combat mission. His luck changed the next day, however, when a Focke Wulf FW 190 shot him down over southwestern France. He met up with French resistance forces, the Maquis.
After nearly a month, Yeager and a fellow evader began a trek across the snow-covered Pyrenees, but encountered a German patrol. When his comrade was badly wounded, Yeager amputated the man's lower leg and carried him into neutral Spain. Evaders were usually returned home, but Yeager made a personal pitch to General Eisenhower to let him fight again. He went on to fly 64 combat missions and achieved 13 aerial victories, including 5 in one mission. Colonel Albert Boyd launched Yeager's career as a test pilot when he selected him to fly the Bell X(S)-l rocket aircraft. On 14 October 1947 he became the first man to capture "the demon" of the sound barrier--Mach 1--despite having broken ribs the night before in a horseback riding accident. During his 7 years at Edwards Air Force Base, California, he averaged more than 3 flights a day and 100 flying hours per month, once even flying 27 different types of aircraft in a single month.
He received the MacKay Trophy, the Collier Trophy and the Harmon International Trophy. In October 1954 he returned to operational flying in F-86 Sabres, serving as Commander of the 417th Fighter Squadron at Hahn AB, Germany, and Toul-Rosieres AB, France. Later he commanded the 1st Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base, California, flying the F-100 Super Sabre. After a tour as Commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School, he returned to operational flying at Clark AB, Philippines. As Commander, 405th Fighter Wing, he flew 127 combat missions in Southeast Asia in the B-57 Canberra, F-100 Super Sabre, F- 102 Delta Dagger, and F-4 Phantom II.
In March 1975 he retired from the USAF. He was honored as the first active duty airman inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, and is one of the few to receive a peacetime Medal of Honor. Having amassed over 14,000 flying hours in more than 200 different aircraft, Brigadier General Yeager today remains active in many aspects of aviation, from flying warbirds at air shows to flying America's front-line aircraft at Edwards as a consultant.
The Bell X-5 was the first high-performance aircraft in the world to successfully fly with a variable-swept wing. Major Yeager's flight in this dangerously spin-prone aircraft on 7 October 1953 helped demonstrate the drag-reducing advantages of swept-wing flight. The data collected by him and other X-5 pilots bore fruit in the F-111, F-14 and B-1 programs. Flight testing such as this helped establish Chuck Yeager as the "greatest test pilot of them all."