His career began in World War II as a private in the U.S. Army Air Forces. After serving as an aircraft mechanic, in September, 1942 he entered enlisted pilot training and upon graduation was promoted to the rank of Flight Officer (WW 2 U.S. Army Air Forces rank equivalent to Warrant Officer) and became a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot. After the war he became a test pilot of many kinds of aircraft and rocket planes. Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the experimental Bell X-1 at Mach 1 at an altitude of 13,700 m (45,000 ft). Although Scott Crossfield was the first man to fly faster than Mach 2 in 1953, Yeager shortly thereafter exceeded Mach 2.4. He later commanded fighter squadrons and wings in Germany and in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and in recognition of the outstanding performance ratings of those units he then was promoted to Brigadier-General. Yeager's flying career spans more than sixty years and has taken him to every corner of the globe, even into the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.
Chuck Yeager is not related to Jeana Yeager, one of the two pilots of the Rutan Voyager aircraft, which circled the world without landing or refueling. The name "Yeager" is an Anglicized form of the German and Dutch name, Jäger (German: "hunter") , and so is common among immigrants of those communities. He is the uncle of former baseball catcher Steve Yeager.
Stationed in the United Kingdom at RAF Leiston, Yeager flew P-51 Mustangs in combat (he named his aircraft Glamorous Glen after his girlfriend, Glennis Faye Dickhouse, who became his wife in February 1945) with the 363rd Fighter Squadron. He had gained one victory before he was shot down over France on his eighth mission, on March 5, 1944. He escaped to Spain on March 30 with the help of the Maquis (French Resistance) and returned to England on May 15, 1944. During his stay with the Maquis, Yeager assisted the guerrillas in duties that did not involve direct combat, though he did help to construct bombs for the group, a skill that he had learned from his father. He was awarded the Bronze Star for helping another airman, who lost part of his leg during the escape attempt, to cross the Pyrenees.
Despite a regulation that "evaders" (escaped pilots) could not fly over enemy territory again to avoid compromising Resistance allies, Yeager was reinstated to flying combat. Yeager had joined a bomber pilot evader, Capt. Fred Glover, in speaking directly to the Allied Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, on June 12, 1944. With Glover pleading their case, arguing that because the Allies had invaded France, the Maquis resistance movement was by then openly fighting the Nazis alongside Allied troops, so there was little or nothing they could reveal if shot down again to expose those who had helped them evade capture. Eisenhower, after gaining permission from the War Department to decide the requests, concurred with Yeager and Glover. Yeager later credited his postwar success in the Air Force to this decision, saying that his test pilot career followed naturally from being a decorated combat ace with a good kill record, along with being an airplane maintenance man prior to attending pilot school. In part because of his maintenance background, Yeager also frequently served as a maintenance officer in his flying units.
Yeager possessed outstanding eyesight (rated as 20/10, once enabling him to shoot a deer at ), flying skills, and combat leadership; he distinguished himself by becoming the first pilot in his group to make "ace in a day": he shot down five enemy aircraft in one mission, finishing the war with 11.5 official victories, including one of the first air-to-air victories over a jet fighter (a German Me-262). Two of his "ace in a day" kills were scored without firing a single shot; he flew into firing position against an Me-109 and the pilot of the aircraft panicked, breaking to starboard and colliding with his wingman; Yeager later reported both pilots bailed out. An additional victory that was not officially counted for him came during the period before his combat status was reinstated: during a training flight in his P-51 over the North Sea, he happened on a German Ju-88 attacking a downed B-17 Flying Fortress crew. Yeager's quick thinking and reflexes saved the B-17 crew, but because he was not yet cleared for flying combat again, his gun camera film and credit for the kill were given to his wingman, Eddie Simpson. (Yeager later mistakenly recalled that the credit had given Simpson his fifth kill).
Yeager was commissioned a second lieutenant while at Leiston and was promoted to captain before the end of his tour. He flew his sixty-first and final mission on January 15, 1945, and returned to the United States in early February. As an evader, he received his choice of assignments and because his new wife was pregnant, chose Wright Field to be near his home in West Virginia. His high flight hours and maintenance experience qualified him to become a functional test pilot of repaired aircraft, which brought him under the command of Colonel Albert Boyd, head of the Aeronautical Systems Flight Test Division.
On the day of the flight, Yeager was in such pain that he could not seal the airplane's hatch by himself. Ridley rigged up a device (really just the end of a broom handle, used as an extra lever) to allow Yeager to seal the hatch of the airplane. Yeager's flight recorded Mach 1.07. However, Yeager was always quick to point out that the public paid attention to whole numbers and that the next milestone would be exceeding Mach 2. Yeager's X-1 is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. Yeager was awarded the MacKay and Collier Trophies in 1948 for his mach-transcending flight, and the Harmon International Trophy in 1954.
Some aviation historians contend that American pilot George Welch broke the sound barrier before Yeager, once while diving an XP-86 Sabre on October 1, 1947, and again just 30 minutes before Yeager's X-1 flight. There was also a disputed claim by German pilot Hans Guido Mutke that he was the first person to break the sound barrier, on April 9, 1945, in a Messerschmitt Me 262. Postwar testing, however, determined that the Me-262 would go out of control and break apart well short of Mach 1.
Yeager went on to break many other speed and altitude records. He also was one of the first American pilots to fly a MiG-15 'Fagot' after its pilot defected to South Korea with it. During the latter half of 1953, Yeager was involved with the USAF team that was working on the X-1A, an aircraft designed to surpass Mach 2 in level flight. That year, he flew a chase plane for the female civilian pilot Jackie Cochran, a close friend, as she became the first woman to fly faster than sound. However, on November 20, 1953, the NACA's D-558-II Skyrocket and its pilot, Scott Crossfield, became the first team to reach twice the speed of sound. After they were bested, Ridley and Yeager decided to beat rival Crossfield's speed record in a flight series that they dubbed "Operation NACA Weep." Not only did they beat Crossfield, but they did it in time to spoil a celebration planned for the 50th anniversary of flight in which Crossfield was to be called "the fastest man alive." The Ridley/Yeager USAF team achieved Mach 2.44 on December 12, 1953. Shortly after reaching Mach 2.44, due to a loss of aerodynamic control at approximately ., Yeager lost control of the X-1A. With the aircraft out of control, simultaneously rolling, pitching and yawing out of the sky, Yeager dropped in 51 seconds until regaining control of the aircraft at approximately . He was able to land the aircraft without further incident.
Yeager was foremost a fighter pilot and held several squadron and wing commands. From May 1955 to July 1957 he commanded the F-86H Sabre-equipped 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron (50th Fighter-Bomber Wing) at Hahn AB, Germany, and Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France; and from 1957 to 1960 the F-100D-equipped 1st Fighter Day Squadron (later, while still under Yeager's command, re-designated the 306th Tactical Fighter Squadron) at George Air Force Base, California, and Morón Air Base, Spain.
In 1962, after completion of a year's studies at the Air War College, he was the first commandant of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School, which produced astronauts for NASA and the USAF, after its redesignation from the USAF Flight Test Pilot School. A flying accident during a test flight in one of the school's NF-104s that put an end to his record attempts. Between December 1963 and January 1964, Yeager completed five flights in the NASA M2-F1 lifting body.
In 1966 he took command of the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing at Clark Air Base, the Philippines, whose squadrons were deployed on rotational temporary duty (TDY) in South Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. There he accrued another 414 hours of combat time in 127 missions, mostly in a Martin B-57 light bomber. In February 1968, he was assigned command of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, and led the F-4 Phantom wing in South Korea during the Pueblo crisis.
On June 22, 1969, he was promoted to Brigadier-General, and was assigned in July as the vice-commander of the Seventeenth Air Force. In 1971, Yeager was assigned to Pakistan to advise the Pakistan Air Force at the behest of then-Ambassador Joe Farland. Prior to the start of hostilities of the Bangladesh War he is reported to have said that the Pakistani army would be in New Delhi within a week. During the war, his twin-engined Beechcraft was destroyed in an Indian air raid on the Chaklala air base - he was reportedly incensed and demanded US retaliation.
|Air Force Distinguished Service Medal|
|Silver Star, for shooting down five Me-109s in one day, with one oak leaf cluster|
|Legion of Merit with one oak leaf cluster|
|Distinguished Flying Cross, for an Me-262 kill, with two oak leaf clusters, including first to break the sound barrier|
|Bronze Star , for helping rescue a fellow airman from Occupied France, with “V” device|
|Air Medal with 10 oak leaf clusters|
|Distinguished Unit Citation Emblem with oak leaf cluster|
|Air Force Outstanding Unit Award|
|Air Force Commendation Medal|
|American Defense Service Medal|
|American Campaign Medal|
|European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (8 battle stars)|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Presidential Medal of Freedom|
Through the years, Yeager delivered a number of aviation and test pilot related speeches to a variety of groups ranging from test pilots, Air Force Association banquets, Civil Air Patrol, Experimental Aircraft Association, and even the Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriters (CPCU) National Meeting entitled "Breaking Barriers" in Honolulu in October 1995. Yeager easily adapted his talk to a given audience on the importance of stabilators and their role in giving America air combat supremacy. Yeager was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973, and in 1990, included with the first class of inductees into the Aerospace Walk of Honor.
In the late 80s and early 90s, Yeager set a number of light, general aircraft performance records for speed, range, and endurance. Most notable were flights conducted on behalf of Piper Aircraft. On one such flight, Yeager did an emergency landing as a result of fuel exhaustion.
On October 14, 1997, on the 50th anniversary of his historic flight past Mach 1, he flew a new Glamorous Glennis III, an F-15D Eagle, past Mach 1, with Lt. Col. Troy Fontaine as co-pilot. The chase plane for the flight was an F-16 Fighting Falcon piloted by Bob Hoover, a famous air-show pilot, and his wingman for the first supersonic flight. Had Yeager gone to the flight surgeon with his broken ribs before the X-1 flight, he would have been grounded and Hoover would have flown the supersonic flight test, with Bud Anderson flying chase. This was Yeager's last official flight with the Air Force. At the end of his speech to the crowd he concluded, "All that I am... I owe to the Air Force." In 2004, Congress voted to authorize the President to promote Brig. Gen Yeager to the rank of Major General on the retired list. In 2005, President George W. Bush granted the promotion of both Yeager and (posthumously) air-power pioneer Billy Mitchell to Major General. Few Presidents have authorized retirement promotions: Mitchell was first posthumously reinstated as a brigadier general by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Academy Award winning actor/Air Force Reservist Jimmy Stewart was promoted in retirement from Brigadier General to Major General by President Ronald Reagan.
Yeager, who never attended college and was often modest about his background, is considered by some to be one of the greatest pilots of all time. Despite his lack of higher education, he has been honored in his home state. Marshall University has named its highest academic scholarship, the Society of Yeager Scholars, in his honor. Additionally, Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, is named after him. The Interstate 64/Interstate 77 bridge over the Kanawha River in Charleston is named for Yeager. He was the chairman of Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagle Program.
Yeager is now fully retired from military test flight, after having maintained that status for three decades after his official retirement from the Air Force. Yeager served on the presidential commission that investigated the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger on STS-51-L. The Sacramento ABC affiliate sent a crew to Yeager's home, a few miles northeast of the city, following the Challenger disaster that was aired on Nightline. Yeager provided a voice of calm, confidence, and understanding during the interview. Most notable was his quote: "They (NASA) have all the telemetry data available to understand what happened, and it will be just a matter of time to analyze it". Yeager did admit that there is a risk in any aeronautical flight test, a category in which the Space Shuttle fits, that crews accept that risk, and that these same crews understand the consequences of that risk better than anyone else. Regardless, they believe in what they are doing and would not do any other type of work.
In 2000, Yeager met actress Victoria Scott D'Angelo on a hiking trail in Nevada County. Despite their 36 year age difference, they started dating shortly thereafter. The pair married in August 2003. Three of Yeager's children are currently suing for control of his holdings, claiming that D'Angelo married him for his fortune. Yeager contends they simply want more money.
---- Chuck Yeager. MedalofHonor.com. Retrieved on 2007-09-22..