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Charles Elwood Yeager
|Born|| February 13, 1923 |
Myra, West Virginia, U.S.
|Years of service||1941–1975 (34 years)|
|Relations||Steve Yeager (nephew)|
|Other work||Flight instructor|
Charles Elwood Yeager
|Born|| February 13, 1923 |
Myra, West Virginia, U.S.
|Years of service||1941–1975 (34 years)|
|Relations||Steve Yeager (nephew)|
|Other work||Flight instructor|
Charles Elwood "Chuck" Yeager (//; born February 13, 1923) is a retired brigadier general in the United States Air Force and noted test pilot. In 1947, he became the first pilot to (officially) travel faster than sound.
Yeager's career began in World War II as a private in the United States 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 (the World War II USAAF equivalent to warrant officer) and became a North American P-51 Mustang fighter pilot.
After the war, Yeager became a test pilot of many types of aircraft including experimental rocket-powered aircraft. As the first human to break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, he flew the experimental Bell X-1 at Mach 1 at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13,700 m). Although Scott Crossfield was the first to fly faster than Mach 2 in 1953, Yeager shortly thereafter set a new record of Mach 2.44.
Yeager 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 60 years and has taken him to every corner of the globe, including the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.
Yeager was born to farming parents Susie Mae and Albert Hal Yeager in Myra, West Virginia, and graduated from high school in Hamlin, West Virginia. He had two brothers, Roy and Hal, Jr., and two sisters, Doris Ann (killed by Roy with a shotgun while still an infant) and Pansy Lee. His first experience with the military was as a teen at the Citizens Military Training Camp at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis, Indiana, during 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.
The name "Yeager" (//) is an Anglicized form of the German name Jäger or Jaeger (German: "hunter"), and so is common among immigrants of that community. He is the uncle of former baseball catcher Steve Yeager.[N 1]
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 Base, Victorville, California. At enlistment, 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 unusually sharp vision (a visual acuity rated 20/10), which once enabled him to shoot a deer at 600 yards (550 m), 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 Field, Arizona, where he graduated from class 43C on March 10, 1943. Assigned to the 357th Fighter Group at Tonopah, Nevada, he initially trained as a fighter pilot, flying Bell P-39 Airacobras (earning a seven-day grounding order for pruning a tree belonging to a local farmer during a training flight), and went overseas with the group on November 23, 1943.
Stationed in the United Kingdom at RAF Leiston, Yeager flew P-51 Mustangs in combat with the 363d Fighter Squadron. He named his aircraft Glamorous Glennis after his girlfriend, Glennis Faye Dickhouse, who became his wife in February 1945. Yeager 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, although 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 had 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 groups, Yeager was reinstated to flying combat. He had joined another evader, bomber pilot Captain Fred Glover, in speaking directly to the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, on June 12, 1944. With Glover pleading their case, they argued that because the Allies had invaded France and the Maquis resistance movement was by then openly fighting the Nazis alongside Allied troops, if Yeager or Glover were shot down again, there was little or nothing about those who had previously helped them evade capture that could be revealed to the enemy.
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 his having been a decorated combat pilot, along with having been an aircraft mechanic before attending pilot school. In part, because of his maintenance background, he also frequently served as a maintenance officer in his flying units.
Yeager demonstrated outstanding flying skills and combat leadership. On 12 October 1944, he became the first pilot in his group to make "ace in a day," shooting down five enemy aircraft in a single mission. Two of his "ace in a day" kills were scored without firing a single shot: when he flew into firing position against a Messerschmitt Bf 109, the pilot of the aircraft panicked, breaking to starboard and colliding with his wingman. Yeager later reported both pilots bailed out. He finished 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).
Another victory, which was not officially counted for Yeager, 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 Junkers Ju 88 heavy fighter attacking a downed Boeing 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.)
In his 1986 memoirs, Yeager recalled with disgust that "atrocities were committed by both sides" and went on to recount going on a mission with orders from the Eighth Air Force to "strafe anything that moved." During the mission briefing, he whispered to Major Donald H. Boschkay, "If we are going to do things like this, we sure as hell better make sure we are on the winning side." Yeager further noted, "I’m certainly not proud of that particular strafing mission against civilians. But it is there, on the record and in my memory."
Yeager was commissioned a second lieutenant while at Leiston, and was promoted to captain before the end of his tour. He flew his 61st 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 number of 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.
Yeager remained in the Air Force after the war, becoming a test pilot at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base). After Bell Aircraft test pilot "Slick" Goodlin demanded $150,000 to break the sound "barrier," the USAAF selected Yeager to fly the rocket-powered Bell XS-1 in a NACA program to research high-speed flight.
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." Two nights before the scheduled date for the flight, Yeager broke two ribs falling from 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 the accident. On the day of the flight, Yeager was in such pain that he could not seal the X-1'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 X-1.
Yeager broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the X-1 at Mach 1.07 at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13,700 m).[N 2] Yeager was awarded the MacKay and Collier Trophies in 1948 for his mach-transcending flight, and the Harmon International Trophy in 1954. The X-1 he flew that day was later put on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.
Yeager went on to break many other speed and altitude records. He was also one of the first American pilots to fly a MiG-15, after its pilot defected to South Korea. Returning to Muroc, 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 aircraft for the civilian pilot Jackie Cochran, a close friend, as she became the first woman to fly faster than sound.
On November 20, 1953, the U.S. Navy program involving the 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 series of test flights 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, Yeager experienced a loss of aerodynamic control of the X-1A due to inertial coupling at approximately 80,000 ft (24,000 m). With the aircraft simultaneously rolling, pitching, and yawing out of the sky, Yeager dropped 51,000 feet (16,000 m) in 51 seconds before regaining control of the aircraft at approximately 29,000 feet (8,800 m). 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 Super Sabre-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.
Now a full Colonel in 1962, after completion of a year's studies at the Air War College, Yeager became 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. Between December 1963 and January 1964, Yeager completed five flights in the NASA M2-F1 lifting body. An accident during a test flight in one of the school's NF-104s put an end to his record attempts.
In 1966, Yeager 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 Canberra light bomber. In February 1968, Yeager was assigned command of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, and led the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II wing in South Korea during the Pueblo crisis.
From 1971 to 1973, at the behest of Ambassador Joe Farland, Yeager was assigned to Pakistan to advise the Pakistan Air Force. During the Indo-Pakistan War, Yeager reputedly provided an assessment that the Pakistani Army would be in New Delhi within a week.
On March 1, 1975, following assignments in Germany and Pakistan, Yeager retired from the Air Force at Norton Air Force Base, although he continued to occasionally fly for the USAF and NASA as a consulting test pilot at Edwards AFB.[N 3]
Yeager made a cameo appearance in the movie The Right Stuff (1983). He played "Fred," a bartender at "Pancho's Place", which was most appropriate, as 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." His own role in the movie was played by Sam Shepard.
For several years in the 1980s, Yeager was connected to General Motors, serving as the public face of AC Delco, the company's automotive parts division. In 1986, Yeager was invited to drive the Chevrolet Corvette pace car for the 70th running of the Indianapolis 500. In 1988, Yeager was again invited to drive the pace car, this time at the wheel of an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. In 1986, President Reagan appointed Yeager to the Rogers Commission that investigated the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, 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 performed an emergency landing as a result of fuel exhaustion. On another, he piloted Piper's turboprop Cheyenne 400LS to a time-to-height record: FL350 (35,000 feet) in 16 minutes, exceeding the climb performance of a Boeing 737 at gross weight.
Yeager is fully retired from military test flying, after having maintained that status for three decades after his official retirement from the Air Force. 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. The chase plane for the flight was an F-16 Fighting Falcon piloted by Bob Hoover, a legendary air-show pilot who had been Yeager's wingman for the first supersonic flight. This was Yeager's last official flight with the U.S. Air Force. At the end of his speech to the crowd, Yeager concluded, "All that I am ... I owe to the Air Force." Later that month, he was the recipient of the Tony Jannus Award for his achievements.
In December 1975, the U.S. Congress awarded Yeager a silver medal "equivalent to a noncombat Medal of Honor ... for contributing immeasurably to aerospace science by risking his life in piloting the XS-1 research airplane faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947." President Gerald Ford presented the medal to Yeager in a ceremony at the White House on December 8, 1976.[N 4]
Yeager, who never attended college and was often modest about his background, is considered by some[who?] 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. Yeager was also the chairman of Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagle Program since 1994, and has been named the program's Chairman Emeritus.
Additionally, Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, is named after Yeager. The Interstate 64/Interstate 77 bridge over the Kanawha River in Charleston is named in his honor. On October 19, 2006, the state of West Virginia also honored Yeager with a marker along Corridor G (part of U.S. 119) in his home Lincoln County, as well as renamed part of the highway the Yeager Highway.
Yeager is an Honorary Board Member of the humanitarian organization Wings of Hope. 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 was on December 1, 2009 in Sacramento, California.
|U.S. Air Force Command Pilot Badge|
|Air Force Distinguished Service Medal|
|Silver Star with bronze oak leaf cluster (for shooting down five Messerschmitt Bf 109s in one day)|
|Legion of Merit with bronze oak leaf cluster|
|Distinguished Flying Cross with two bronze oak leaf clusters (for a Messerschmitt Me 262 kill and first to break the sound barrier)|
|Bronze Star Medal with bronze valor device (for helping rescue a fellow airman from Occupied France)|
|Air Medal with two silver oak leaf clusters|
|Air Force Commendation Medal|
|Presidential Unit Citation with bronze oak leaf cluster|
|Air Force Outstanding Unit Award|
|Campaign and service medals|
|American Defense Service Medal|
|American Campaign Medal|
|European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with silver and three bronze service stars|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Presidential Medal of Freedom|
Yeager, and his wife Glennis, moved to Grass Valley, California after his retirement from the Air Force in 1975. The couple prospered because of Yeager's best-selling autobiography, speaking engagements and commercial ventures. Glennis Yeager died of ovarian cancer in 1990. They had four children (Susan, Don, Mickey and Sharon).
In 2000, Yeager met actress Victoria Scott D'Angelo on a hiking trail in Nevada County. The pair started dating shortly thereafter, and married in August 2003. Subsequent to the commencement of their relationship, a bitter dispute arose between Yeager, his children and D'Angelo. The children contended that the much younger D'Angelo had married him for his fortune, which Yeager and D'Angelo denied. Litigation ensued, in which his children accused D'Angelo of "undue influence" on Yeager, and Yeager accused his children of diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars from his pension fund. In August 2008, the California Court of Appeal ruled for Yeager, finding that his daughter Susan had breached her duty as trustee.
Yeager, with his wife, currently lives in Penn Valley, California, the location of the General Chuck Yeager Foundation, which supports programs that "teach the ideals by which General Yeager has lived."
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