|Birth name||Charles Elwood Yeager|
|Born||February 13, 1923|
Myra, West Virginia
|Died||December 7, 2020 (aged 97)|
Los Angeles, California
|Years of service|
(m. 1945; died 1990)
Victoria Scott D'Angelo
|Relations||Steve Yeager (cousin)|
|Other work||Flight instructor and test pilot|
Charles Elwood Yeager (// YAY-gər, February 13, 1923 – December 7, 2020) was a United States Air Force officer, flying ace, and record-setting test pilot who in 1947 became the first pilot in history confirmed to have exceeded the speed of sound in level flight.
Yeager's career began in World War II as a private in the United States Army, assigned to the Army Air Forces in 1941.[a] 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 Army Air Force version of the Army's warrant officer), later achieving most of his aerial victories as a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot on the Western Front, where he was credited with shooting down 11.5 enemy aircraft (the half credit is from a second pilot assisting him in a single shootdown). On October 12, 1944, he attained "ace in a day" status, shooting down five enemy aircraft in one mission.
After the war, Yeager became a test pilot and flew many types of aircraft, including experimental rocket-powered aircraft for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Through the NACA program, he became the first human to officially break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, when he flew the experimental Bell X-1 at Mach 1 at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13,700 m), for which he won both the Collier and Mackay trophies in 1948. He then went on to break several other speed and altitude records in the following years.
Yeager later commanded fighter squadrons and wings in Germany, as well as in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. In recognition of his achievements and the outstanding performance ratings of those units, he was promoted to brigadier general in 1969 and inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973, retiring on March 1, 1975. Yeager's three-war active-duty flying career spanned more than 30 years and took him to many parts of the world, including the Korean War zone and the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. Throughout his life, he flew more than 360 different types of aircraft.
Early life and education
Yeager was born February 13, 1923, to farming parents Susie Mae (née Sizemore; 1898–1987) and Albert Hal Yeager (1896–1963) in Myra, West Virginia. When he was five years old, his family moved to Hamlin, West Virginia. Yeager had two brothers, Roy and Hal Jr., and two sisters, Doris Ann (accidentally killed at age two by six-year-old Roy playing with a shotgun) 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 died in 1990.
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 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 three months later prompted the USAAF to alter its recruiting standards. Yeager had unusually sharp vision (a visual acuity rated 20/10), which once enabled him to shoot a deer at 600 yd (550 m).
At the time of his flight training acceptance, he was a crew chief on an AT-11. He received his pilot 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 (being grounded for seven days for clipping a farmer's tree during a training flight), and shipped 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 Glen 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 in his first aircraft (P-51B-5-NA s/n 43-6763) on March 5, 1944, on his eighth mission. He escaped to Spain on March 30, 1944 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; he helped construct bombs for the group, a skill that he had learned from his father. He was awarded the Bronze Star for helping a navigator, Omar M. "Pat" Patterson, Jr., to cross the Pyrenees.
Despite a regulation prohibiting "evaders" (escaped pilots) from flying over enemy territory again, the purpose of which was to prevent resistance groups from being compromised by giving the enemy a second chance to possibly capture him, Yeager was reinstated to flying combat. He had joined another evader, fellow P-51 pilot 1st Lt Fred Glover, in speaking directly to the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, on June 12, 1944. "I raised so much hell that General Eisenhower finally let me go back to my squadron" Yeager said. "He cleared me for combat after D Day, because all the free Frenchmen — Maquis and people like that — had surfaced". Eisenhower, after gaining permission from the War Department to decide the requests, concurred with Yeager and Glover. In the meantime, Yeager shot down his second enemy aircraft, a German Junkers Ju 88 bomber, over the English Channel.
Yeager demonstrated outstanding flying skills and combat leadership. On October 12, 1944, he became the first pilot in his group to make "ace in a day," downing five enemy aircraft in a single mission. Two of these 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 said 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 that he shot down as it was on final approach for landing.
In his 1986 memoirs, Yeager recalled with disgust that "atrocities were committed by both sides", and said he went 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. Bochkay, "If we are going to do things like this, we sure as hell better make sure we are on the winning side". Yeager said, "I'm certainly not proud of that particular strafing mission against civilians. But it is there, on the record and in my memory". He also expressed bitterness at his treatment in England during World War II, describing the British as "arrogant" and "nasty".
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 1945. 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.
Post-World War II
Test pilot – breaking the sound barrier
Yeager remained in the U.S. Air Force after the war, becoming a test pilot at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base), following graduation from Air Materiel Command Flight Performance School (Class 46C). After Bell Aircraft test pilot Chalmers "Slick" Goodlin demanded US$150,000 (over US$1.7 million in 2020 dollars) 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 of this task that the answer to many of the inherent challenges was along the lines of "Yeager better have paid-up insurance". Two nights before the scheduled date for the flight, Yeager broke two ribs when he fell from a horse. He was worried that the injury would remove him from the mission and reported that he went to a civilian doctor in nearby Rosamond, California, who taped his ribs.[c] Besides his wife who was riding with him, Yeager told only his 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.
Yeager broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, in level flight while piloting the X-1 Glamorous Glennis at Mach 1.05 at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13,700 m)[d] over the Rogers Dry Lake of the Mojave Desert in California. The success of the mission was not announced to the public until June 1948. Yeager was awarded the Mackay Trophy and the Collier Trophy 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 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, after its pilot, No Kum-sok, 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 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 by setting a new record at Mach 2.44 on December 12, 1953, 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 new record flight, however, did not entirely go to plan, since shortly after reaching Mach 2.44, Yeager lost control of the X-1A at about 80,000 ft (24,000 m) due to inertia coupling, a phenomenon largely unknown at the time. With the aircraft simultaneously rolling, pitching, and yawing out of control, Yeager dropped 51,000 ft (16,000 m) in less than a minute before regaining control at around 29,000 ft (8,800 m). He then managed to land without further incident. For this achievement, Yeager was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) in 1954.[e]
Yeager was foremost a fighter pilot and held several squadron and wing commands. From 1954 to 1957, he commanded the F-86H Sabre-equipped 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron (50th Fighter-Bomber Wing) at Hahn AB, West Germany, and Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France; and from 1957 to 1960 the F-100D Super Sabre-equipped 1st Fighter Day 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 and final thesis on STOL aircraft  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. (Yeager himself had only a high school education, so he was not eligible to become an astronaut like those he trained.) In April 1962, Yeager flew for the only time with Neil Armstrong. Their job, flying a T-33, was to evaluate Smith Ranch Dry Lake in Nevada for use as an emergency landing site for the North American X-15. In his autobiography, Yeager wrote that he knew the lake bed was unsuitable for landings after recent rains, but Armstrong insisted on flying out anyway. As they attempted a touch-and-go, the wheels became stuck and they had to wait for rescue.
Yeager's participation in the test pilot training program for NASA included controversial behavior. Yeager reportedly did not believe that Ed Dwight, the first African American pilot admitted into the program, should be a part of it. In the 2019 documentary series Chasing the Moon, the filmmakers report that Yeager instructed staff and participants at the school that "Washington is trying to cram the nigger down our throats. [President] Kennedy is using this to make 'racial equality,' so do not speak to him, do not socialize with him, do not drink with him, do not invite him over to your house, and in six months he'll be gone." In his autobiography, Dwight details how Yeager's leadership led to discriminatory treatment throughout his training at Edwards Air Force base.
Between December 1963 and January 1964, Yeager completed five flights in the NASA M2-F1 lifting body. An accident during a December 1963 test flight in one of the school's NF-104s eventually 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 flew 127 missions. 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 Joseph Farland, Yeager was assigned to Pakistan to advise the Pakistan Air Force. A small passenger aircraft that was assigned by the Pentagon to Yeager was damaged during an air raid by the Indian Air Force at a Pakistani airbase during the 1971 war between India and Pakistan. Edward C. Ingraham, a U.S. diplomat who had served as political counselor to Ambassador Farland in Islamabad, recalled this incident in the Washington Monthly of October 1985: "After Yeager's Beechcraft was destroyed during an Indian air raid, he raged to his cowering colleagues that the Indian pilot had been specifically instructed by Indira Gandhi to blast his plane. "It was", he later wrote, "the Indian way of giving Uncle Sam the finger". Yeager was incensed over the incident and demanded U.S. retaliation.
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". Sam Shepard portrayed Yeager in the film.
For several years in the 1980s, Yeager was connected to General Motors, publicizing ACDelco, the company's automotive parts division. In 1986, he 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.
During this time, Yeager also served as a technical adviser for three Electronic Arts flight simulator video games. The games include Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer, Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer 2.0, and Chuck Yeager's Air Combat. The game manuals featured quotes and anecdotes from Yeager and were well received by players. Missions featured several of Yeager's accomplishments and let players attempt to top his records. Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer was Electronic Art's top-selling game for 1987.
In 2009, Yeager participated in the documentary The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a profile of his friend Pancho Barnes. The documentary was screened at film festivals, aired on public television in the United States, and won an Emmy Award.
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 longtime test, fighter, and aerobatic pilot who had been Yeager's wingman for the first supersonic flight. At the end of his speech to the crowd in 1997, 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.
On October 14, 2012, on the 65th anniversary of breaking the sound barrier, Yeager did it again at the age of 89, flying as co-pilot in a McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle piloted by Captain David Vincent out of Nellis Air Force Base.
Awards and decorations
In 1973, Yeager was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, arguably aviation's highest honor. In 1974, Yeager received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. 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 X-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.[f]
Yeager, who never attended college and was often modest about his background, is considered by many, including Flying Magazine, the California Hall of Fame, the State of West Virginia, National Aviation Hall of Fame, a few U.S. presidents, and the United States Army Air Force, to be one of the greatest pilots of all time. Despite his lack of higher education, he was honored in his home state. Marshall University named its highest academic scholarship, the Society of Yeager Scholars, in his honor. Yeager was also the chairman of Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA)'s Young Eagle Program from 1994 to 2004, and was named the program's chairman emeritus.
In 1966, Yeager was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1981. He was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor 1990 inaugural class.
Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, is named in his honor. The Interstate 64/Interstate 77 bridge over the Kanawha River in Charleston is named in his honor. He also flew directly under the Kanawha Bridge and West Virginia named it the Chuck E. Yeager Bridge. On October 19, 2006, the state of West Virginia also honored Yeager with a marker along Corridor G (part of U.S. Highway 119) in his home Lincoln County, and also renamed part of the highway the Yeager Highway.
Yeager was an honorary board member of the humanitarian organization Wings of Hope. On August 25, 2009, Governor Arnold 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. Flying Magazine ranked Yeager number 5 on its 2013 list of The 51 Heroes of Aviation; for many years, he was the highest-ranked living person on the list.
- 1940–1949 – Harmon Trophy: Citation of Honorable Mention
- 1947 – Collier Trophy and Mackay Trophy, for breaking the sound barrier for the first time.
- 1953 – Harmon Trophy
- 1976 – Congressional Silver Medal
Dates of rank
|Insignia||Rank||Service and Component||Date|
|no insignia at the time||Private||United States Army
|September 12, 1941|
|Private First Class to Corporal||United States Army
|1941 to March 9, 1943|
|Flight officer||United States Army
Army of the United States
|March 10, 1943|
|Second lieutenant||United States Army
Army of the United States
|July 6, 1944|
|First lieutenant||United States Army
Army of the United States
|September 4, 1944|
|Captain||United States Army
Army of the United States
|October 24, 1944|
|Second lieutenant||United States Army
|February 10, 1947|
(accepted February 25, 1947, rank from July 6, 1944)
|First lieutenant||United States Army
|July 6, 1947|
|Captain||United States Air Force||July 6, 1951|
|Major||United States Air Force||February 15, 1951 (temporary)|
July 6, 1958 (permanent)
|Lieutenant colonel||United States Air Force||March 22, 1956 (temporary)|
August 1, 1964 (permanent)
|Colonel||United States Air Force||March 14, 1961 (temporary)|
September 20, 1967 (permanent)
|Brigadier general||United States Air Force||June 22, 1969|
Yeager named his plane after his wife, Glennis, as a good-luck charm: "You're my good-luck charm, hon. Any airplane I name after you always brings me home." Yeager and 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). Yeager's son Mickey (Michael) died unexpectedly in Oregon, on March 26, 2011.
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 D'Angelo, 35 years Yeager's junior, had married him for his fortune. Yeager and D'Angelo both denied the charge. Litigation ensued, in which his children accused D'Angelo of "undue influence" on Yeager, and Yeager accused his children of diverting millions of dollars from his assets. In August 2008, the California Court of Appeal ruled for Yeager, finding that his daughter Susan had breached her duty as trustee.
- 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.
- In some versions of the story, the doctor was a veterinarian; however, local residents have noted that Rosamond was so small that it had neither a medical doctor nor a veterinarian.
- Yeager was the first confirmed to break the sound barrier, and the first by any measure to do it in level flight. Other pilots who have been suggested as unproven possibilities to have exceeded the sound barrier before Yeager were all flying in a steep dive for the supposed occurrence. There is anecdotal evidence that American pilot George Welch may have broken the sound barrier two weeks before Yeager, while diving an XP-86 Sabre on October 1, 1947, and again on October 14, just 30 minutes before Yeager's X-1 flight. However, the precision instruments used to carefully document the speed of Yeager's flight were not used during Welch's flights. Even earlier, German pilot Lothar Sieber was estimated to have broken the speed of sound during his fatal test-flight of the rocket-powered Bachem Natter on March 1, 1945, although the speed was not officially measured. In his 1990 book Me-163, former Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet pilot Mano Ziegler claims that his friend, test pilot Heini Dittmar, broke the sound barrier and that on July 6, 1944, he reached 1,130 km/h in dive, and that several people on the ground heard the sonic booms. 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 received the DSM in the Army design, since the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal was not awarded until 1965.
- This is apparently a unique award, as the law that created it states it is equivalent to a noncombat Medal of Honor. It is referred to as a Special Congressional Silver Medal in the President's Daily Diary (also see for a list of ceremony attendees).
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He's not my uncle, he's a cousin. That's a misprint. You can't believe everything you read.
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An experimental rocket plane, the Bell XS-1, has flown faster than the speed of sound a number of times recently, Aviation Week reports in an issue to be released tomorrow.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chuck Yeager.|
- Official website
- Biography from ChuckYeager.org
- U.S. Air Force: Chuck Yeager biography
- Yeager in Biography.com
- Biography in the National Aviation Hall of Fame
- General Chuck Yeager, USAF, Biography and Interview with American Academy of Achievement
- Biographical sketch at the Wayback Machine (archived May 2, 2006)
- Airport Journals' "Chuck Yeager: Booming And Zooming" Part 1 and Part 2
- "Chuck Yeager & the Sound Barrier" in Aerospaceweb.org
- Space.com: Chuck Yeager
- Chuck Yeager at IMDb
- Chuck Yeager discography at Discogs
- Yeager obituary via The New York Times