Charles Elwood Yeager, known as Chuck (Myra, Feb. 13, 1923 – Oroville, Dec. 7, 2020) was an American aviator, major general of the United States Air Force and famous test pilot. In 1947 he was the first man to break the wall of sound, that is, to fly at a speed in excess of 1225 km
His career began during World War II as a simple airman in the United States Army Air Forces. After being employed as an aircraft mechanic, he was admitted to pilot training in September 1943 and, after passing, was promoted to the rank of flight officer becoming a fighter pilot on P-51 Mustangs. After the war he became a test pilot of many types of aircraft with internal combustion and jet engines. Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the experimental Bell X-1 aircraft at Mach 1 at an altitude of 13,700 m. Although Scott Crossfield had been the first man to fly beyond Mach 2 in 1953, shortly thereafter Yeager set a new record of Mach 2.44. Abandoning his career as a test pilot, Yeager took command of combat squadrons in Germany and Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War when, in recognition of the outstanding achievements of these units, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. Yeager”s flying career spans more than 60 years and has taken him to all corners of the globe, including the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Yeager was born to parents of farming background, Susie Mae and Albert Hal Yeager in Myra, West Virginia, and graduated from high school in Hamlin, the nearest town to his birthplace. The surname “Yeager” is an anglicized form of the German-Scandinavian word, Jäger (hunter). Yeager had two brothers, Roy and Hal, Jr. and two sisters, Doris Ann (accidentally shot by Roy while still an infant) and Pansy Lee.
His first contact with the military was attending 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 (after whom he renamed his own Bell X-1 “Glamorous Glennis”), and the couple had four children. Glennis Yeager died in 1990.
World War II
Yeager enlisted as an airman in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) on September 12, 1941, and became an aircraft mechanic at George Air Force Base in Victorville, California. When he enlisted, Yeager was not qualified for flight training because of his age, but the United States” entry into World War II less than two months later prompted the USAAF to change its recruiting standards. Endowed with an exceptional sight of 20
Based in England at RAF Base Leiston, Yeager flew the North American P-51 Mustang fighter in combat in the 363rd Fighter Squadron. He had scored a victory when he was shot down over France during his eighth mission on March 5, 1944. He managed to escape to Spain on March 30 with the help of the Maquis (French Resistance) and returned to England on May 15, 1944. During his time with the Maquis, Yeager participated in guerrilla actions that did not involve combat employment, helping to build bombs for partisans, a skill he learned from his father. He was decorated with the Bronze Star for helping another airman, partially maimed in one leg during an escape attempt, cross the Pyrenees.
Yeager was reassigned to air combat. Together with another escapee, bomber pilot Capt. Fred Glover, Yeager had managed to speak directly with the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, on June 12, 1944. Glover argued their case, arguing that since the Allies had invaded France, the Maquis were openly fighting the Nazis alongside regular troops, so there was little or nothing they could reveal, should they be shot down again, about the identities and movements of those who had helped them escape. Eisenhower, after being authorized by the War Department to make a decision on the matter, agreed with Yeager and Glover. Later, Yeager attributed his own success in the Air Force to this decision, claiming that his career as a test pilot was a natural continuation of being a decorated ace with a good number of victories, as well as having been an aircraft maintenance officer before attending flight school.
Yeager distinguished himself by becoming the first in his group to become an “ace in a day”: he shot down five enemy planes in a single mission, ending the war with 11.5 official victories, including one of the first air-to-air victories against a jet fighter (a Messerschmitt Me 262)-the shooting down occurred as the 262 landed with no more fuel, Yeager”s own admission. Two of his “ace-in-a-day” victories were achieved without firing a shot; he took up a firing position against a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the enemy pilot, panicking, turned sharply until he collided with his wingmate; Yeager later reported that both pilots had parachuted out. Another victory that was not officially credited came in the period before his status as a fighter pilot was restored: during a training flight with his P-51 over the North Sea, he ran into a German Junkers Ju 88 that was grounding the crew of a downed Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Yeager hit the enemy plane, saving the B-17 crew, but since it had not yet been returned to active combat duty, the victory was credited to his wingman Eddie Simpson.
Yeager was promoted to lieutenant during his time at Leiston and to captain before the end of his tour of duty in Europe. He flew his sixty-first and final mission on January 15, 1945, and returned to the United States in early February. As an escaped pilot from enemy territory, he was given a choice of his new assignment, and since his wife was pregnant, he chose Wright Field to be near his home in West Virginia. His high number of flying hours, and his aircraft maintenance skills qualified him as a repaired aircraft test pilot, which brought him under the command of Colonel Albert Boyd, head of the Aeronautical Systems Flight Test Division.
Yeager remained in the United States Air Force after the war, becoming a test pilot at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) and was later selected to fly the Bell X-1 jet plane during an NACA program aimed at researching high-speed flight after Bell Aircraft test pilot “Slick” Goodlin had asked for $150,000 to break the wall of sound. The difficulties of the task were such that the answer to many of the challenges associated with it was “Yeager had better have paid his insurance premium.” Yeager broke the wall of sound on October 14, 1947, taking the experimental X-1 aircraft to Mach 1 at an altitude of 45,000 feet (14,000 m). Two nights before the scheduled date of the flight, Yeager broke two ribs by falling from his horse. He was so afraid of being excused from the mission that he went to a veterinarian in a nearby town for treatment and told only his wife and his pilot friend and project colleague Jack Ridley about the incident.
On the day of the flight, Yeager was in so much pain that he could not close the airplane door himself. Ridley improvised a tool as needed, using the top of a broomstick to pack a lever to help Yeager perform the maneuver. Yeager”s flight achieved a record Mach 1.07: however, he quickly noticed that the public was paying attention to the round numbers, and that the next goal was to exceed Mach 2. Yeager”s Bell X-1 is on display at the Smithsonian Institution”s National Air and Space Museum. For his historic flight, Yeager was awarded the MacKay and Collier Trophies in 1948, as well as the Harmon International Trophy in 1954.
Yeager continued to break altitude and speed records in later years. He was also one of the first American pilots to take the controls of a MiG-15 after its pilot used it to escape to South Korea. During the latter half of 1953, Yeager was part of the USAF team working on the X-1A, an aircraft designed to exceed Mach 2 in horizontal flight. However, on Nov. 20, 1953, it was NACA (now NASA) pilot Scott Crossfield who flew beyond twice the speed of sound in his D-558-II Skyrocket. Beaten, Ridley and Yeager decided to outclass their rival”s record with a series of speed records they called “Operation Crying NACA.” Not only did they beat Crossfield, but they did it just in time to spoil a planned celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wright Brothers” flight, where Crossfield was to be introduced as “the fastest man on the face of the Earth.” The USAF team of Ridley and Yeager reached Mach 2.44 on December 12, 1953. Moments after reaching Mach 2.44, Yeager suffered a loss of aerodynamic control due to inertial coupling at an altitude of about 80,000 feet (24,000 m), and lost control of the X-1A. With the plane out of control, undergoing simultaneous dives, rolls and yawing (so-called “three-axis divergence”), Yeager fell 51 000 feet (16 000 m) in 51 seconds, until recovering flight attitude at an altitude of 29 000 feet (8 800 m) and landing without further incident.
Yeager was primarily a fighter pilot, and commanded several fighter squadrons and flocks. From May 1955 to July 1957 he commanded the 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron (50th Fighter-Bomber Wing), mounted on F-86H Sabre and deployed at Hahn AB, Germany, and Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France. From 1957 to 1960 he commanded the F-100D-mounted 1st Fighter Day Squadron (later, still under Yeager”s command, renamed as the 306th Tactical Fighter Squadron) deployed at George Air Force Base, California and Morón Air Base Spain.
In 1962, after completing a one-year course of study at the Air War College, he was the first commander of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School (formerly known as the USAF Flight Test Pilot School), which produced astronauts for NASA and the USAF. An accident during a test flight with one of the school”s NF-104s ended his record attempts. Between December 1963 and January 1964, Yeager made five flights with the NASA M2-F1 lifting body.
In 1966 he took command of the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing at Clark Air Base, Philippines, whose squadrons were deployed for temporary duty in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. During this assignment, he accumulated another 414 combat hours over the course of 127 missions, mostly on 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 commanded the F-4 Phantom wing in South Korea during the USS Pueblo crisis.
On June 22, 1969, he was promoted to Brigadier General, and in July was appointed Deputy Commander of Seventeenth Air Force. In 1971 Yeager was assigned to Pakistan as an adviser to the Pakistan Air Force under Ambassador Joe Farland. Before the start of hostilities in the Bangladesh War he stated that the Pakistani army would enter New Delhi within a week. During the war, his twin-engine Beechcraft was destroyed during an Indian air raid against Chaklala Air Base. Despite Pakistan”s surrender to India in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, Yeager remained in Pakistan until March 1973, and he later remembered his stay there as one of the most enjoyable periods of his life. During this time, he spent most of his time flying a Pakistan Air Force F-86 Sabre, making numerous expeditions to K2, vacationing in Swat, Pakistan, and learning the Urdu language.
End of career and civilian life
On March 1, 1975, returning from duties in Germany and Pakistan, he left the Air Force at Norton Air Force Base, but still occasionally flying for USAF and NASA as a consultant test pilot at Edwards AFB. For his work as a consultant, Yeager is paid $1 a year, plus as much flight time as he wants.
Yeager was included in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973, and in 1990 he was included in the Aerospace Walk of Honor.
On October 14, 1997, the 50th anniversary of his historic flight beyond Mach 1, he flew a new Glamorous Glennis III, an F-15D Eagle, beyond Mach 1, with Lt. Col. Troy Fontaine as co-pilot. The chase plane for the occasion was an F-16 Fighting Falcon flown by Bob Hoover, famous air-show pilot and his wingman for the first supersonic flight. If Yeager had gone to the flight surgeon with broken ribs before the X-1 flight, Hoover would have replaced him with Bud Anderson at the controls of the chase plane. The 50th anniversary one was Yeager”s last official flight with the Air Force. Also in 1997 he received the Tony Jannus Award for his achievements in aviation.
In 2004, the U.S. Congress voted to authorize the president to promote Yeager to the rank of major general in the reserve. In 2005, President George W. Bush promoted both Yeager and posthumously promoted air superiority pioneer Billy Mitchell.
Yeager has since completely retired from being a test pilot. He was a member, along with Richard Feynman and Neil Armstrong, of the Rogers Commission, which investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion during the STS-51-L mission.
In 2000, ten years after the death of his wife Glennis, Yeager met actress Victoria Scott D”Angelo, who became his wife in 2003. The couple lived in Oroville, California.
In 2006 Brigadier General Yeager ran for president of the United States, but withdrew from the campaign shortly before voting began in Iowa for unknown reasons.
On Oct. 14, 2012, at the ripe old age of 89, he repeated the feat of breaking the sound barrier, once again boarding a McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, but this time in the seat reserved for the navigator.
Yeager passed away on Dec. 7, 2020; a brief statement was given by his wife, which was promptly picked up by all major agencies around the world.
Yeager made a brief cameo appearance in the film Real Men (original title “The Right Stuff”), a cinematic account of his aviation exploits and early U.S. astronautics with the Mercury program. He played Fred, a bartender at “Pancho”s Place.” In this regard, the aviator said he thought the role more than appropriate:
Instead, the role of Yeager was played by actor Sam Shepard.
- Chuck Yeager
- Chuck Yeager
- ^ Yeager had not been in an airplane prior to January 1942, when his Engineering Officer invited him on a test flight after maintenance of an AT-11. He related that he got really sick on the flight: “After puking all over myself I said, ”Yeager, you made a big mistake””.
- ^ 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.
- ^ a b Yeager, Chuck and Janos, Leo. Yeager: An Autobiography. Page 252 (paperback). New York: Bantam Books, 1986. ISBN 0-553-25674-2.
- a b Krystal, Becky. «Chuck Yeager, test pilot who broke sound barrier, dies at 97». Washington Post (en inglés estadounidense). ISSN 0190-8286. Consultado el 8 de diciembre de 2020.
- Nigel Fountain: Chuck Yeager obituary. The Guardian, 8. Dezember 2020, abgerufen am 22. Juni 2021 (englisch).
- Chuck Yeager, Leo Janos: Yeager. An Autobiography. Bantam, Toronto/New York 1986, ISBN 0-553-25674-2, S. 79–80 (englisch).
- Garth Calitz: Gen Chuck Yeager – The legend passes. Flightline weekly, 8. Dezember 2020, abgerufen am 22. Juni 2021 (englisch).