Eagle Profile

Brigadier General (ret.) Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier and went on to become one of the most legendary figures in aeronautical history. Born in 1923 in Myra, West Virginia, Yeager joined the US Army Air Corps at 18. After serving as a mechanic, he attended pilot training at Luke Field, Arizona. He then reported to the 363d Fighter Squadron in Tonopah, Nevada, where he trained in the Bell P-39 Airacobra. The squadron deployed to England in 1943 and there converted to the North American P-51 Mustang. Yeager soon shot down two German fighters, but was himself downed on his eighth mission by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190.

He escaped capture and eventually walked from France across the Pyrenees to Spain. Yeager then personally convinced General Eisenhower to allow him to stay and fly combat. He returned home in 1945 as a commissioned officer with 64 combat missions and 13 victories, including five Messerschmitt Me-109 Gustavs in a single day. After the war, he was assigned to the Flight Test Division at Wright Field, Ohio, as a maintenance officer. However, his superb flying skills led to his attendance at the Flight Performance School (initial designation of the USAF Test Pilot School). In 1947, he was sent to Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards AFB), California, as project pilot for one of the nation’s most secret aircraft-the rocket-powered Bell XS-1.

On 14 October 1947, Yeager became an aviation legend-the first man to fly supersonic. He made history again in 1953 in the Bell X-1A when he set another record by exceeding Mach 2.5. In 7 years as a test pilot, he averaged 100 flying hours per month. Yeager left Edwards in 1954 to command squadrons in Germany and California, the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards AFB, and a wing in the Philippines. After 127 combat missions over Vietnam, he took command of the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, and led its deployment to Korea during the Pueblo crisis. He was then promoted to Brigadier General and became Vice Commander, 17th Air Force.

He later served as US Defense Representative to Pakistan and, in 1973, became the first active-duty military member inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. At the time of his retirement in 1975, he had flown over 10,000 hours in 180 aircraft. Yeager has been awarded every major award in the field of flight, including the MacKay, Collier, and International Harmon Trophies, a peacetime Medal of Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He currently dedicates a large portion of his time to the General Chuck Yeager Foundation, founded in 2002 to support young people in their quest for knowledge, honor, and service.

Brigadier General (ret.) Yeager was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 1982 and subsequently honored in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, respectively.

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1982 Lithograph
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2000 Lithograph
2003 Lithograph

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While Flying a P-57 with the 357th Fighter Group, Gen Yeager encountered jet-propelled Messerschmitt (Me) 262s. Attacking the high element, he got hits on one of them before they pulled out of range. Separated from the rest of the flight, he spotted a lone Me 262 with its gear down approaching an airfield at approximately 500 feet. Diving at the deck, he fired a long burst into the jet before breaking off to avoid intense flak. The Messerschmitt crashed short of the runway and became the first jet aircraft on the 357th's victory list.

The first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound (Mach 1) was the Bell X-1, the rocket propelled research aircraft shown in the painting. On 14 October 1947, Captain "Chuck" Yeager achieved a speed of 760.5 miles per hour and became the first man in the world to fly through the "sound barrier." For his unparalleled courage in advancing knowledge of aviation technology, the US Congress presented him a special Medal of Honor in 1976 in recognition of his extraordinary achievement and heroism.

In December 1953, Major "Chuck" Yeager flew the Bell X-1A on its fourth flight and established a world speed record of 1,650 miles per hour (MACH 2.42). He received the Harmon International Trophy for this flight, which Yeager admits to be his "most hair-raising experience." After he set the speed record, the X-1A became uncontrollable. It rolled at 580 degrees per second, while pulling nine Gs positive, two Gs sideforce, and two negative Gs during each 360-degree revolution. Yeager's recovery from this unnerving situation is but one reason why he is considered by many to be the world's greatest test pilot. In recognition of his overall extraordinary achievement and heroism in advancing aviation technology, the US Congress presented him with a special Medal of Honor in 1976.

After escorting the "heavies" deep inside Germany on 6 November 1944, the 363rd Fighter Squadron was returning to England when they spotted an airfield from which the Luftwaffe operated its newest innovation--the Me-262 jet fighter. In their prop-driven P-51 Mustangs, the American pilots took on the technologically superior jets and Captain Yeager damaged two of the enemy fighters in the ensuing dogfight. Seeing yet another Me-262 on final approach to its home base, he pressed the attack and destroyed the jet before it landed. In recognition of his accomplishments on this mission, "Chuck" Yeager was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

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.

Until the 1st Fighter Squadron deployed to Spain in 1958, the Tactical Air Command had never enjoyed a perfect deployment. The brass were beginning to wonder whether fighter aircraft were capable of extended-range flying without suffering numerous aborts. Yeager's squadron made it to Spain and back with all its airplanes. They maintained a perfect deployment record, unique in TAC, to Japan, back to Spain, and on to Italy. "I felt almost as good about that as breaking the sound barrier because a transoceanic deployment was how the TAC brass rated a squadron commander's leadership and ability."

As Commander of the 405th TFW, Colonel Yeager was responsible for the performance, morale, and well-being of over 5,000 men and 5 squadrons of aircraft deployed throughout Southeast Asia. Due to the distances between his units, he trusted his squadron commanders to get the job done and made regular visits to monitor their combat performance. Most of the wing's combat missions took place in South Vietnam, but losses were nonetheless common. The wing's flying mission varied from close air support flown by B-57s out of South Vietnam to an alert commitment on Taiwan by F-100s. Air defense was flown by two squadrons, one of which, the 64th TFS, became the first unit in PACAF to receive the Hughes Trophy--an annual award given to the best USAF air defense unit. Colonel Yeager's leadership, combined with the dedication of the wing personnel, earned the 405th a reputation throughout the Air Force.

In September 1953, Major Yeager was summoned to Kadena AB, Okinawa, for a highly classified mission. US Forces had acquired a Russian built MiG-15, that had been flown to South Korea by a defecting North Korean pilot. Flight tests were performed to compare the combat qualities of the MiG. Yeager conducted a complete flight test profile to plot the aircraft's speed, power, climb rate, and range. He pushed the aircraft beyond its normal flight envelope despite a week of heavy winds, rain, and low ceilings. The results of his exhaustive efforts confirmed intelligence estimates of the MiG's capabilities and were of key importance in developing air-to-air tactics for US fighters.

Between October 1949 and October 1952, Major "Chuck" Yeager demonstrated the capability of the XF-92A, the first powered delta wing aircraft ever to fly. On the second of his 19 test missions in the aircraft, he commented, "It was a tricky plane to fly, but ... I got it out to l.05 Mach." This was .20 Mach faster than the aircraft's developer, Convair, had attained. During the same flight, he decided to see how slow he could land it. Pointing the nose up at a 45-degree angle of attack, he landed at a speed of only 67 mph--more than 100 mph slower than Convair's test pilot.

The Korean War accelerated the development of new fighters, and on 3 August 1954, Major "Chuck" Yeager became the first USAF pilot to fly the XF-104 Starfighter. Pushing the revolutionary thin-winged prototype to new limits, he tested stability and performance...factors that could be crucial if this lightweight fighter was going to become a frontline interceptor. Yeager's flight was an important step and paved the way for the more than 2,500 F-104 Starfighters that eventually saw service in 15 air forces around the world.

While completing the Stability and Control Course at Edwards AFB, Yeager was selected by General Boyd to go with him to test the first generation of French jet fighters and bombers. Shortly after arrival at Marignane AB, near Marseilles, France, Yeager began flying the MD 452 Mystere jet fighter. He put it through the paces, stalling and spinning it; in September 1951, he flew it up to Paris and made the first sonic boom over that city, while in a steep dive. Many years later, in 1988, the Aero Club of France awarded Yeager the Gold Air Medal for his testing work on their jet aircraft.

As one of only two military X-3 test pilots, Yeager's flying and analytical skills were instrumental in the success of the X-3. The X-3 was key in finding the cause-and-effect relationship of load distribution and aerodynamics, contributing to the understanding of inertia or roll coupling phenomenon. Pioneering efforts on the short span, low-aspect-ratio wing greatly benefited aviation industry. Using data from this program, Lockheed's Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson completed the design of the F-104 Starfighter, one of the most spectacular of the "century series" fighters.

As one of only two military X-3 test pilots, Yeager's flying and analytical skills were instrumental in the success of the X-3. The X-3 was key in finding the cause-and-effect relationship of load distribution and aerodynamics, contributing to the understanding of inertia or roll coupling phenomenon. Pioneering efforts on the short span, low-aspect-ratio wing greatly benefited aviation industry. Using data from this program, Lockheed's Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson completed the design of the F-104 Starfighter, one of the most spectacular of the "century series" fighters.

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."

While testing the rocket-boosted Lockheed NF-104 Starfighter, to establish operational parameters for students in the test pilot school, Yeager climbed to 104,000 feet. The aircraft suddenly went into a spin and, after 13 turns, he ejected! Wearing a full pressure suit, he had self-contained oxygen, but when a red-hot socket tube from the seat hit his helmet, Yeager had a face full of fire. He hit the ground hard! After a month in the hospital with first, second, and third degree burns, an almost perfectly restored Yeager returned to his love--flying!

On 14 October 1947, Captain Chuck Yeager painfully locked the door handle of the Bell X(S)-1 as it hung in the belly of an airborne Boeing B-29 launch platform. He felt he was in the driver's seat. The X(S)-1 fell free, he got the nose down, and fired all four rockets in rapid sequence. There was a little buffet, but he adjusted the flying tail two degrees and climbed smoothly. On only three rockets, suddenly the Mach needle fluctuated and then went off the scale. Yeager and the aircraft were supersonic, and below there was a sudden sound like thunder!

On the 50th anniversary of breaking the sound barrier Chuck Yeager repeated the feat at Edwards AFB. Flying an F-15E specially marked as "Glamorous Glennis" Yeager flew the same flight path in the same airspace at the same altitude as he had on 14 October 1947. In his characteristic nonchalance Yeager later told a waiting crowd that "what I am I owe to the Air Force." Yeager used this occasion to turn over the keys of the fast jets to the U.S. Air Force ending more that a half-century as an active test pilot 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!

On 14 October 1947, flying the first Bell XS-1 (Experimental Sonic-One), Chuck Yeager became the first pilot to fly faster than sound. The XS-1, later designated X-l and named "Glamorous Glennis" by Yeager in honor of his wife, reached Mach 1.06, 700 mph, at an altitude of 43,000 feet, over the Mojave Desert near Muroc Dry Lake, California. The flight dispelled the myth that aircraft could not be designed to fly supersonic and propelled Yeager into the history books forever.