Just over a year ago, December 7, 2020, an aviation icon, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles "Chuck' Yeager, passed away. With the U.S. Air Force's 75th Birthday approaching next year, we look back at the legacy of the first person to break the sound barrier at a time when the Air Force was not even a month old.
General Yeager was born in 1923, in Myra, West Virginia, and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September 1941, was accepted for pilot training under the flying sergeant program in July 1942, and received his pilot wings and appointment as a flight officer in March 1943 at Luke Field, Arizona.
During World War II, General Yeager distinguished himself in aerial combat over France and Germany during the years 1943-1945 by shooting down 13 enemy aircraft, including one of Germany's first jet fighters. He became an "ace in a day" by destroying five German aircraft on one mission,. On March 5, 1944, he was shot down over German-occupied France but escaped capture when elements of the French Maquis helped him to reach the safety of the Spanish border.
He returned to the United States in February 1945 to attend the instructor pilot course after which he served as an instructor pilot. In July 1945 he went to Wright Field, Ohio, where he received his first experimental flight test work. His assignment there led to his selection as pilot of the nation's first research rocket aircraft, the Bell X-1, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where he served from December 1949 to September 1954.
General Yeager made world history on Oct. 14, 1947, when he became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. During his nine-year assignment as the nation's leading test pilot, he also became the first person to fly more than twice the speed of sound in level flight, flying the Bell X-lA on Dec. 12, 1953. During 1952, he attended the Air Command and Staff College.
He returned to Europe in October 1954 and became commander of the 417th Fighter Squadron at Hahn Air Base, Germany, in May 1955. He remained in that position when his squadron was reassigned to Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France, in April 1956.
Upon his return to the United States in September 1957, he was assigned to the 413th Fighter Wing at George Air Force Base, Calif., and in April 1958 became commander of the 1st Fighter Squadron. In April 1958, he went with the 1st Tactical Fighter Squadron to Moron Air Base, Spain, where he remained until November 1958. He returned to George Air Force Base with the same unit which was later redesignated the 306th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
General Yeager graduated from the Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, in June 1961 and became commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School, where all military astronauts are trained, in July 1962.
In July 1966 he assumed command of the 405th Fighter Wing at Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines. While commander of the 405th Fighter Wing, he flew 127 missions in South Vietnam.
General Yeager assumed command of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina in February 1968 and went with the wing to Korea during the Pueblo crisis. In July 1969 he became vice commander, Seventeenth Air Force, with headquarters at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. In January 1971 General Yeager assumed duties as United States defense representative to Pakistan. He reported to the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center at Norton Air Force Base, Calif., in March 1973 and became director of the center in June 1973.
His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal with "V" device, Air Medal with 10 oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal, Purple Heart, Distinguished Unit Citation Emblem with oak leaf cluster and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon. He is a command pilot and has flown more than 10,000 hours in more than 361 different makes and models of military aircraft all over the world.
He was awarded the MacKay Trophy in 1948, the Collier Trophy in 1948, and the Harmon International Trophy in 1954.
General Yeager was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree from West Virginia University, in 1948, and an honorary doctor of science degree from Marshall University of Huntington, W.Va., in 1969.
He was promoted to the grade of brigadier general effective Aug. 1, 1969, with date of rank June 22, 1969. Chuck Yeager died December 7, 2020.