EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- Famed test pilot, retired Brig. Gen. Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager died Dec. 7. He was 97.
In 1945, after earning ace status for downing 13 German warplanes in World War II, including five Me-109 fighters in one day, Yeager was posted as a maintenance officer at the Air Force’s Flight Test Division at Wright Field, Ohio. He soon came to the attention of the division chief, Col. Albert Boyd, the father of Air Force flight test, who assigned him as an experimental test pilot.
Probably his most notable achievement was piloting the Bell X-1 experimental rocket plane, in which he became the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound in 1947, shortly after the founding of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service.
Yeager also aided in pioneering modern aircraft development during his nine-year assignment as an experimental test pilot by test flying numerous experimental, production and foreign aircraft for the U.S. Air Force. This included taking the X-1A to Mach 2.44 in straight and level flight on Dec. 12, 1953.
Before becoming a test pilot, he served as a P-51 Mustang pilot in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. He was shot down on his eighth combat mission over German-occupied France on March 5, 1944, and only evaded capture with the help of the French Maquis. Unlike most downed pilots, required by military policy to return stateside, Yeager successfully lobbied his commander for relief from this policy from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and returned to combat.
Upon his return to the United States, Yeager was assigned to Wright Field, Ohio. After coming to the notice of Col. Albert Boyd, he graduated from Flight Performance School, the equivalent of today’s U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, in 1946. He became the commandant of what was later called the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards AFB in 1961.
Yeager’s last official Air Force assignment was as the director of the Air Force Safety and Inspection Center at Norton AFB, California, to which he was appointed in June 1973.
Yeager was born at Myra, West Virginia in 1923. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in September 1941 as an aircraft mechanic.
His career as a pilot commenced in July 1942, when he was chosen for enlisted pilot training, and graduated in March 1943 as a flight officer. He retired from the Air Force in 1975. He was a command pilot and flew more than 10,000 hours in 155 different types of military aircraft. He was also awarded the MacKay Trophy in 1948, the Collier Trophy in 1948 and the Harmon International Trophy in 1954.
Yeager was promoted to the grade of brigadier general effective Aug. 1, 1969, with a date of rank of June 22, 1969.