Chuck Yeager flew everything from transports, to fighters, to bombers! Born in 1923 in Myra, West Virginia, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age 18. He first served as an aircraft mechanic but soon entered flying training. After earning his wings, he reported to the 363rd Fighter Squadron in Nevada and, as a flight officer, trained in the Bell P-39 Aerocobra. The squadron went to England in early 1944 and there converted to the North American P-51 Mustang. Yeager shot down his first Luftwaffe fighter on his seventh mission, but, on his next mission, he was downed in combat with a Focke Wulf FW 190. He escaped capture and eventually walked from southern France across the Pyrenees to Spain.
He was certain to be sent back to the States but personally convinced General Eisenhower to allow him to continue to fly combat. He went home as a commissioned officer with 64 combat missions and more than 13 aerial victories, including five in one day. He was assigned to Wright Field, Ohio, as a maintenance officer, but Yeager was soon to become a test pilot. Colonel Albert Boyd picked him to fly the nation's most secret aircraft, the rocket-powered Bell X(S)-1. On 14 October 1947, he became the first man to fly supersonic! In nine years as a test pilot, Yeager averaged three flights per day and 100 flying hours per month. He made history again in the Bell X-1A when he set another speed record by exceeding Mach 2.5. Yeager left Edwards AFB, California, to command a fighter squadron in Germany.
He flew the North American F-86 Sabre and then returned to the States to Command the 1st Fighter Day Squadron where he flew the North American F-100 Super Sabre. After attending Air War College, he became Commandant, Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School, at Edwards AFB. In 1966, he moved to Clark AFB in the Philippines and commanded the 405th Fighter Wing. He flew 127 combat missions over Southeast Asia. He next commanded the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, and flew the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. There, he was promoted to brigadier general and then became Vice Commander, Seventeenth Air Force.
He later served as U.S. Defense Representative to Pakistan and, in 1973, became the first active-duty military member inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. In 1975, he retired as Air Force Safety Director. During his career in flight test, he was awarded the MacKay Trophy, the Collier Trophy, and the Harmon International Trophy. In 1976, Yeager was honored with a Special Congressional Silver Medal presented by President Ford. In 1997, General Yeager ended more than 50 years of flying for the Air Force as a fighter pilot, test pilot, commander, and consultant.
In 1992, the Experimental Aircraft Association of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, initiated their "Young Eagles" program. With Brigadier General Chuck Yeager as a national spokesman, they set a goal to give 1,000,000 young people a free ride in an aircraft by the year 2003. By the spring of 2000, over 573,000 "Young Eagles" have taken to the air. At Maxwell AFB, Alabama, for the past several years during the Gathering of Eagles, General Yeager and other volunteers have been adding to the numbers. Imagine, having your first flight with Chuck Yeager!