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Charles "Chuck" Yeager ( 1923 - )  Category ( Aviators ) [suggest a correction]

Chuck YeagerRetired Brigadier-General (U.S. Air Force) Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager is famous for being the first pilot (at age 24) to break the sound barrier and travel at a speed exceeding Mach 1. Born to farming parents in West Virginia, Yeager enlisted as a private in the US Army Air Forces in September 1941, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He became an aircraft mechanic at a base in California. He demonstrated natural ability as a pilot and received his wings and a promotion to Flight Officer in 1943.

Initially, Yeager was a WWII fighter pilot flying P-39 Airacobras. He flew P-51 Mustangs in combat (naming his plane Glamorous Glen, after his girlfriend, Glennis Dickhouse, whom he married in 1945) as member of the 363rd Fighter Squadron. He was shot down over France on his eighth mission, in March of 1944. Yeager escaped to Spain with the help of the French Resistance and returned to England, where he was stationed, only two months later. The Air Force broke their own rule about not sending formerly shot-down pilots back into combat by allowing Yeager to return to combat service. His flying skills and combat leadership had distinguished him to a great degree, and the military needed his skills. He further distinguished himself by becoming the first pilot in his group to make "ace in a day," in other words, he shot down five enemy aircraft in one mission, finishing the war with 11.5 victories, including one of the first air-to-air victories over a jet fighter (a German Me-262).

After the war, Yeager remained in the Air Force and became a test pilot at what is now Edwards Air Force Base. He was selected to fly the rocket-powered Bell X-1. This was considered a very dangerous mission, but Yeager was determined to be the first pilot to break the sound barrier. Two nights before the flight he broke two ribs while riding a horse. He was so afraid of being removed from the mission that he went to a veterinarian for treatment. Only a very few people knew the truth. On the day of the flight he was in such pain that he could not shut the plane hatch unassisted. He employed the end of a broom handle to seal the hatch. His record-setting flight was recorded at Mach 1.07. He achieved Mach 2.44 in December 1953, but only after an unnerving flight that included a loss of aerodynamic control at approximately 80,000 feet. He regained control of the aircraft at 29,000 feet and was able to land without further incident.

In 1962, Yeager was appointed the first commandant of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School, which produced astronauts for NASA. Later, he held command of a fighter wing at the Clark Air Base in the Philippines. In 1969 he was promoted to Brigadier-General.

Yeager has remained very active even post-retirement. He works as a consultant for the Air Force, at the rate of one dollar per year, along with all the flying time he desires. The one-dollar amount allows him to be covered by workers compensation. For several years he did commercials for AC Delco, the automotive parts division of General Motors. His endorsement caused sales to surge. Yeager continues to set a number of light, general aircraft performance records for speed, range, and endurance. In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of his historic flight, he flew a new Glamorous Glennis III, an F-15D Eagle past Mach 1. He was in his seventies at the time. In 2004 Congress voted to authorize the President to promote Yeager to the rank of Major General. Few presidents have authorized retirement promotions. Yeager, who never attended college and always displays a modest demeanor, is considered by many to be one of the greatest pilots of all time. His wife died in 1990, and in 2000 he met actress Victoria D'Angelo. Despite their 36-year age difference they started dating and married in 2003.

Image: Charles "Chuck" Yeager.

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