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Charles Elwood "Chuck" Yeager (born February 13, 1923) is a retired General in the United States Air Force and noted test pilot. He is widely considered to be the first pilot to travel faster than sound (1947). Originally retiring as a brigadier general, Yeager was promoted to major general on the Air Force's retired list 20 years later for his military achievements.

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 Germanymarker 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 Unionmarker during the height of the Cold War.

Biography

Yeager was born to farming-parents Susie Mae and Albert Hal Yeager in Myra, West Virginiamarker and graduated from high school in Hamlin, West Virginiamarker. Yeager had two brothers, Roy and Hal, Jr., and two sisters, Doris Ann (accidentally killed by Roy with a shotgun while still an infant) and Pansy Lee. His first association with the military was as a participant in the Citizens Military Training Camp at Fort Benjamin Harrisonmarker, Indianapolis, Indianamarker, during both the summers of 1939 and 1940. On February 26, 1945, Yeager married Glennis Dickhouse, and the couple had four children. Glennis Yeager died in 1990.

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, Dutch and Scandinavian name, Jäger (German: "hunter") , and so is common among immigrants of those communities. He is the uncle of former baseball catcher Steve Yeager.

World War II

Yeager enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) on September 12, 1941, and became an aircraft mechanic at George Air Force Basemarker, Victorville, Californiamarker. When he enlisted Yeager was not eligible for flight training because of his age and educational background, but the entry of the U.S. into World War II less than two months later prompted the USAAF to alter its recruiting standards. Blessed with remarkable 20/10 vision, Yeager displayed natural talent as a pilot and was accepted for flight training. He received his wings and a promotion to Flight Officer at Luke Fieldmarker, Arizonamarker, where he graduated from class 43C on March 10, 1943. Assigned to the 357th Fighter Group at Tonopah, Nevadamarker, he initially trained as a fighter pilot flying P-39 Airacobras and went overseas with the group on November 23, 1943.

P-51D-20NA Glamorous Glen III, is the aircraft in which Chuck Yeager pilot achieved most of his aerial victories.


Stationed in the United Kingdommarker at RAF Leistonmarker, Yeager flew P-51 Mustangs in combat (he named his aircraft Glamorous Glennis 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 Francemarker on his eighth mission, on March 5, 1944. He escaped to Spainmarker 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 Pyreneesmarker.

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 Messerschmitt Me 262). Two of his "ace in a day" kills were scored without firing a single shot; he flew into firing position against a Messerschmitt Bf 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 Seamarker, he happened on a German Junkers Ju 88 heavy fighter 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 Fieldmarker 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.

Post-War

Yeager remained in the Air Force after the war, becoming a test pilot at Muroc Army Air Fieldmarker (now Edwards Air Force Basemarker) and eventually being selected to fly the rocket-powered Bell X-1 in a NACA program to research high-speed flight, after Bell Aircraft test pilot "Slick" Goodlin demanded $150,000 to break the sound "barrier." Such was the difficulty in this task that the answer to many of the inherent challenges were along the lines of "Yeager better have paid-up insurance." Yeager broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the experimental X-1 at Mach 1 at an altitude of 45,000 feet (13,700 m). Two nights before the scheduled date for the flight, he broke two ribs while riding a horse. He was so afraid of being removed from the mission that he went to a veterinarian in a nearby town for treatment and told only his wife, as well as friend and fellow project pilot Jack Ridley about it.



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, using the end of a broom handle as an extra lever, to allow Yeager to seal the hatch of the airplane. Yeager's flight recorded Mach 1.07, however, he was 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'smarker National Air and Space Museummarker. 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.

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 after its pilot defected to South Koreamarker 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, he experienced a loss of aerodynamic control due to inertial coupling 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 ABmarker, Germanymarker, and Toul-Rosieres Air Basemarker, Francemarker; 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 Basemarker, California, and Morón Air Basemarker, Spainmarker.

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 NASAmarker and the USAF, after its redesignation from the USAF Flight Test Pilot School. An accident during a test flight in one of the school's NF-104s 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 Basemarker, the Philippinesmarker, 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 Basemarker, North Carolinamarker, and led the F-4 Phantom wing in South Koreamarker during the Pueblo crisismarker.

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 Pakistanmarker 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 Chaklalamarker air base - he was reportedly incensed and demanded US retaliation. Despite Pakistan's surrender to India in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Yeager stayed in Pakistan until March 1973, and recalled his stay in Pakistan as one of the most enjoyable times of his life. During his stay he spent most of his time flying in an F-86 Sabre with the Pakistan Air Force and making several expeditions to the K2marker mountain, vacationing in Swat, Pakistanmarker, trekking and hunting in the Northern Areasmarker and learning the Urdu language.

Merits

  Command pilot

Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star, for shooting down five Bf 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
Purple Heart
Air Medal with 10 oak leaf clusters
Air Force Commendation Medal
Distinguished Unit Citation Emblem with oak leaf cluster
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
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






Post-retirement history

Monument to Yeager at Edwards
On March 1, 1975, following assignments in Germany and Pakistan, he retired from the Air Force at Norton Air Force Basemarker, but still occasionally flew for the USAF and NASA as a consulting test pilot at Edwards AFB. For his consultant work to the Test Pilot School Commander at Edwards Air Force Base, Yeager is paid one dollar annually, along with all the flying time he wants. The $1 allows him to be covered by workers compensation.

For several years, Yeager was the public face of AC Delco, the automotive parts division of General Motors. Because of this, AC Delco experienced a sales surge.

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 Famemarker in 1973, and in 1990, included with the first class of inductees into the Aerospace Walk of Honormarker.

Yeager made a cameo appearance in the movie The Right Stuff. He played "Fred," a bartender at "Pancho's Place," which was most appropriate, since of Pancho's Place Yeager said, "if all the hours were ever totaled, I reckon I spent more time at her place than in a cockpit over those years."

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." Later that month, Yeager was the recipient of the Tony Jannus Award for his achievements.

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.

Brigadier General Yeager
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 Universitymarker has named its highest academic scholarship, the Society of Yeager Scholars, in his honor. Additionally, Yeager Airportmarker in Charleston, West Virginiamarker, 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.

The state of West Virginiamarker honored Yeager with a marker along Corridor G (part of U.S. 119) in his home Lincoln County on October 19, 2006, as well as renamed part of the highway the Yeager Highway.

On August 25, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver announced that Yeager would be one of 13 California Hall of Fame inductees in The California Museum's yearlong exhibit. The induction ceremony is on December 1, 2009 in Sacramentomarker, California.

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 Rogers 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.

On November 20, 2006, Yeager endorsed Representative Duncan Hunter as a candidate for President of the United States and served as honorary chairman of Hunter's presidential campaign.He currently lives in Oroville, Californiamarker with his wife.

References

  1. Yeager, Chuck and Janos, Leo. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 252 (paperback). New York: Bantam Books, 1986. ISBN 0-553-25674-2.
  2. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 6 (paperback).
  3. 357th Fighter Group Profile
  4. Escape and Evasion Case File for Flight Officer Charles (Chuck) E. Yeager
  5. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 45 (paperback).
  6. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 297 (paperback).
  7. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 60 (paperback).
  8. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 121 (paperback).
  9. Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. Pages 52-53 (hardcover). Farrar-Straus-Giroux, New York. 1979. ISBN 0-374-25033-2.
  10. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 157 (paperback).
  11. The Crash of Chuck Yeager's NF-104A, December 10, 1963
  12. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 391 (paperback).
  13. The right stuff in the wrong place - Chuck Yeager's crash landing in Pakistan Washington Monthly, Oct, 1985 by Edward C. Ingraham
  14. http://www.defence.pk/forums/military-history/18071-who-won-air-war-1971-a.html
  15. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 73 (paperback).
  16. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 76 (paperback).
  17. Yeager: An Autobiography. Pages 413-414 (paperback).
  18. "Presentation of a Special Congressional Silver Medal to Brigadier-General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force (Retired)", National Museum of the United States Air Force.
  19. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 418 (paperback).
  20. Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos, Yeager: An Autobiography (New York: Bantam, 1985), 172.
  21. Yeager Comes Home, WOWK-TV, August 19, 2006
  22. Victoria D'Angelo listing at IMDB
  23. The Right Stuff at war, The Age, August 31, 2004
  24. Record-Setting Pilot Chuck Yeager Sues His Children, New York Times, June 7, 2006
  25. Bob Baker's Newsthinking


Further reading

  • Hallion, Richard P. Designers and Test Pilots. New York: Time-Life Books, 1982. ISBN 0-8094-3316-8.
  • Pisano, Dominick A., van der Linden, R. Robert and Winter, Frank H. Chuck Yeager and the Bell X-1: Breaking the Sound Barrier. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (in association with Abrams, New York): 2006. ISBN 0-8109-5535-0.
  • Yeager, Chuck, Cardenas, Bob, Hoover, Bob, Russell, Jack and Young, James. The Quest for Mach One: A First-Person Account of Breaking the Sound Barrier. New York: Penguin Studio, 1997. ISBN 0-670-87460-4.
  • Yeager, Chuck and Leerhsen, Charles. Press on! Further Adventures in the Good Life. New York: Bantam Books, 1988. ISBN 0-553-05333-7.
  • Yeager, Chuck, and Leo Janos. Yeager: An Autobiography. New York: Bantam, 1985. ISBN 978-0553256741.


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