Yeager, Charles “Chuck”
Record Setter/Test PilotEnshrined 1973 1923-Present
The X-1 program was just one of ten different test programs with which Chuck Yeager was involved when he was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base. In an interview, Yeager spoke about his record breaking flight, contending: “I didn’t look at it as a barrier. I looked at it as a mission.” The government had classified the mission as top secret, and the public would not know about Yeager’s achievement for seven months. When asked if this bothered him, Yeager replied, “No. That wasn’t the reason I flew the X-1. I did it because it was my duty. .. That was one test program finished, I’ve got nine more to go now.”
- On October 14th, 1947 he became the first to attain supersonic flight when he flew the Bell XS-1 (named Glamorous Glennis) past the sound barrier. Received the Collier and Machay trophies.
- In the late 1940s, while at Muroc Army Air Base, California he became friends with Pancho Barnes at her (in)famous Happy Bottom Riding Club where most test pilots gathered. Chuck became her favorite test pilot.
- On December 12th, 1953, Yeager became the first to exceed twice the speed of sound (1650 mph), flying the Bell X-1A and received the Harmon Trophy.
- In 1961, Yeager became commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards AFB and later commanded fighter units.
- Air Force fighter pilot and test pilot.
- Commanded Air Force Aerospace Research Pilots School, training nearly half of the astronauts in the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo space programs.
In July 1945 Captain Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager’s pioneering career in supersonic flight began when he received orders to the Army Air Force’s Flight Test Branch at Wright Field near Dayton, Ohio. Here, at this nerve center of aeronautical progress, he received his first taste of experimental flight test work. He found the work challenging and rewarding and after becoming Assistant Chief of Flight Test Operations, graduated from the Flight Performance School in 1946.
In February 1947 Yeager was selected to become the test pilot of the nation’s first rocket-powered research aircraft, the X-l, which he promptly named Glamorous Glennis after his lovely wife. This aircraft was a product of the Bell Aircraft Corporation for the United States Air Force with the cooperation of NACA (a precursor to the modern NASA). The X-1 was an achievement representing 10 years of research into the conquest of the sound barrier, or Mach 1, which equaled 760 miles per hour at sea level. It was a fantastic high-speed laboratory that would demand the ultimate of Yeager. Its engine had to produce the tremendous thrust that supersonic flight required. The solution was a 6,000 pound thrust, liquid-fueled rocket engine buried in the tail. The fuselage housing of this fantastic four-chamber engine was based on ballistic principles and a radical new design that had the symmetry of a bullet to withstand immense shock waves.
In August 1947, Yeager commenced a series of drops from a B-29 “mother plane,” in which he gradually neared the speed of sound. But as he approached the magic figure, the flights became extremely rough. Any ordinary plane, Yeager could see, would have disintegrated.
On October 14th, 1947, at Muroc Air Base, California, Chuck Yeager was preparing to assault the sonic barrier that stood in the way of future flight. At 20,000 feet above the Mojave Desert he released the X-1 from the “Mother Plane” and fired its rocket engine. A long dazzling streak of power burst from the tail. As the rocket plane surged forward, it began to buffet madly. But Yeager realized that there would be no turning back. As the fury of the plane increased Yeager surmised that neither it nor he could long endure. Yeager, however, concentrated on himself and the willing X-1, a beautiful craft to fly. Suddenly the buffeting ceased, and Yeager realized that the powerful X-1 had crossed the barrier that had so baffled men’s minds for centuries. The X-1 proceeded to reach Mach 1.06, over 760 miles per hour. That night in his diary Chuck Yeager wrote: “I was almost disappointed that nothing happened!” But the world knew that he proved that no true barrier to flight existed that Yeager was now the torchbearer for all future pilots going into supersonic flight.
Over the course of the following two years, Yeager made more than 40 flights in the X-1. He repeatedly exceeded the sound barrier and reached speeds of 960 miles per hour and altitudes of 70,000 feet. For his brilliant achievements Yeager received the coveted Mackay Trophy from General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, along with Larry Bell and Jack Stack received the Collier Trophy from the hands of President Truman at the White House.
After graduating from the Test Pilot School and being promoted to Major in 1951, Yeager attended the Air Command and Staff School.
In May 1953, Yeager gave aviatrix Jackie Cochran special instructions in a T-38 and a Canadaire F-86 Sabrejet. In the days that followed, she broke all but one of the world’s major speed records. To cap it all off, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier.
In late 1953 on the island of Okinawa, Yeager was called upon to flight test the Russian built MIG-15 that a defecting North Korean pilot had flown into South Korea. After exhaustive tests, Yeager found the jet to be inferior to the American Sabrejet in almost every respect. On December 12th, 1953, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, Yeager again assaulted the frontiers of supersonic and space flight in an even faster version of the X-l, the new Bell X-lA. Like its predecessor, a B-29 would carry the X-1A aloft to launching altitude so that its four minutes of rocket fuel could attain supersonic flight. The 31-foot long plane appeared too small and frail for the task ahead. But Yeager knew that it was one of the sturdiest planes ever built, structurally and aerodynamically sound, and made of polished aluminum. Soon it carefully moved into position under the B-29 and personnel locked it onto the launching mechanism. Liquid oxygen and a mixture of alcohol and water were pumped aboard. These substances would combine and feed the powerful rocket motor that delivered an awesome 30,000 horsepower! Yeager and the B-29 crew donned their high altitude suits and clambered aboard the B-29. They were ready to assault the unexplored regions beyond Mach 2, as the big bomber and its little flying laboratory climbed skyward, followed by the chase plane. All was ready as the countdown reached “zero” and the release lever was pulled. The X-lA dropped away. Yeager fired the first rocket chamber, and it accelerated rapidly, drawing away from the chase plane. It quickly approached Mach-I and broke through the sound barrier with relative ease. At this point Yeager let the X-lA go and the little craft reared up to over 70, 000 feet and burst to a mind-boggling speed of over 1,600 miles per hour, 2.5 times the speed of sound, or Mach 2.5. The X-1A’s escort plane lagged far behind.
Chuck Yeager had written another new chapter in aviation history by making Man’s fastest flight. But few realized that he endured the worst torment of acceleration forces that any pilot had ever known. His was another achievement in aviation science to be of invaluable use in the technical aircraft guided missiles and space craft of the future. The knowledge that Yeager attained would prove vital in conquering other new barriers to flight. Having broken the sound barrier in 1947 and beaten Scott Crossfield’s Mach 2 record in 1953, Yeager received honors from President Eisenhower, who personally presented him with the Harman International Trophy. But Yeager’s adventures in the X-IA were not complete. Six months after the flight he and Major Arthur Murray accomplished additional flight tests that take the rocket plane to an official speed of 1,650 miles per hour and an altitude of over 90,000 feet. These accomplishments earned Yeager the Distinguished Service Medal.
After more than nine years of supersonic flight test work, Yeager finally returned to Air Force command duty with the 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron in Germany in 1954. He would later take this squadron to France. After this assigment, Yeager returned to serve with the 413th Fighter Day Wing at George Air Force Base, California. In 1958 he commanded the First Fighter Day Squadron in Spain during the Tactical Air Command Strike Force exercises.
After graduating from the Air War College in 1961, Yeager became Deputy Director of Flight Testing at Edwards, where he ran the prototype Lockheed “Starfire” through a grueling set of flight tests, and later became Commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School, where all future military test pilots and astronauts would train.
Yeager took command of the 405th Fighter Wing in the Philippines in 1966, and flew an amazing 126 missions over Vietnam. Two years later, he led the Fourth Tactical Fighter Wing to Korea, during the “Pueblo Crisis”, where he later received the Korea National Security Merit Award.
Yeager received a promotion to Vice Commander of the 17th Air Force in Germany in 1969, and received his brigadier general star. Two years later, he became the U.S. Defense Representative to Pakistan. Currently, he serves as Director of Aerospace Safety at the Air Force’s Inspection and Safety Center in California.
Innovative new aircraft have always been a challenge to Yeager and few men can match his deeds in the air. Most often, he was flying at the very threshold of the unknown during his long and often astonishing career, in which he rose from enlisted man to general. But above all else, Charles Elwood Chuck Yeager will always be honored because he helped overcome the forces of the sound barrier, the pioneering deed that has become the second great milestone by which all of Man’s destiny in flight is measured.
On October 14th, 1997, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his breaking the sound barrier, Chuck Yeager went up again and broke the sound barrier one more time, at the age of 74.
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