General Charles E. Yeager is a source of inspiration for many West Virginians. “Chuck” Yeager grew up in the backwoods of the state, yet managed to rise above it all to become a fighter ace, a legendary test pilot, a leader of men, and an icon for generations. It happened just because he was doing what he loved: flying.
Every flying ace has to start somewhere, and Chuck Yeager started with some queasiness in his stomach, the first couple of times he flew up. Enlisted for the Army Air Corps at 18, he served as a crew chief on an AT-11. It was during this time that he was selected for pilot training in the flying sergeant program.
This started a long and fruitful career as an Army air corps pilot. Following he primary pilot training, he took the basic BT-13s training in California, followed by the advanced training in Arizona. He earned his pilot’s wings, with with Class 43-C on 10 March 1943 and joined the 363rd Fighter Squadron. Soon enough, he started training in fighter tactics in the Bell P-39 Airacobra, where he impressed everybody with his quick adaptation to the aircraft.
He was shipped to England and was assigned to the Eight Air Force in 1943. He piloted a P-51B, one of the best all-around fighter planes of the 2nd World War. He entered combat in 1944, and was able to claim one Me 109 before being shot down during his eight combat mission a month later. With the help of the French underground, he was able to rejoin his unit in England. After much appeal, he was resumed combat operations, flying a P-51C, and eventually a P-51D, which he named Glamorous Glen III, named after his fiancee Glennis Faye Dickhouse. He earned much of is victories on the Glamorous Glen III. Coupled with his 20/10 vision, superb piloting is unparalleled, scoring a total of 12.5 aerial victories. He was eventually promoted to captain and completed his European stint with 64 combat missions.
He went back to the United Stated, and worked as a flight instruction, and eventually a assistant maintenance officer in the Fighter Section of the Flight Test Division at Wright Field, OH. Thanks to this job, he was able to fly almost all of the fighter planes in the flight line. He would often be asked to demonstrate his skills during air shows. His skills was put to the test when Col Albert Boyd, chief of the Flight Test Division, decided that only the very best pilots are allowed to enter the new test pilot school at Wright field. With only a high school education, the advanced academics of the school became a big challenge for Chuck. But thanks to his exceptional flying ability, he was able to pass with flying colors.
Another important milestone for Yeager happened in 1947. Colonel Boyd had to pick one junior test pilot to make the attempt to become the first person to exceed the speed of sound in the rocket-powered Bell X-1. Chuck Yeager was picked, thanks to his “instinctive” piloting. After much flights on the X-1, he was able to fly it to a speed of 0.85 Mach, and eventually, he reached his top speed of Mach 1.06, earning him the status, The fastest man alive.
He went back into active service, taking over command of the 417th Fighter Bomber Squadron, stationed at the Hahn Air Base in Germany. With his skills, the new generation of fighter planes underwent rigorous testings under Yeager. He even led the first flawless trans-Atlantic deployment of a jet fighter squadron in TAC history. Yeager moved up the ranks, and as a colonel, he returned in the States to become the deputy director of flight tests. He eventually took over as commander of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School (ARPS), where he presided over the development of a first-of-its-kind institution designed to prepare U.S. military test pilots for spaceflight.
Combat has always been the center of Chuck Yeager’s flying career, and he was given the chance to take command of the 405th Fighter Wing based in the Philippines. He commanded five squadrons and detachments scattered around Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan. He returned to Europe in 1969, working as a vice commander of the Seventeenth Air Force. Later on, he took on a wholey different assignment: as a U.S. Defense Representative to Pakistan at a time when tensions were high in that region of the world.
On February 25, 1975, he did his last official active duty flight. Upon its completion, he has accumulated a total of 10,131.6 hours in some 180 types and models of military aircraft during an extraordinary flying career.