13 February 1923

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Retired), at Edwards AFB, 14 October 1997, the fiftieth anniversary of his Mach 1 flight. (Photograph © 2017 by Tim Bradley Imaging. Used with permission.)

13 February 1923: Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager, United States Air Force (Retired), was born at Myra, West Virginia.

Who is the greatest pilot I ever saw? Well, uh. . . Well, let me tell you. . . .

The following is from the official U.S. Air Force biography: (Photographs from various sources)

“The world’s first man-made sonic boom told the story. On Oct. 14, 1947, over dry Rogers Lake in California, Chuck Yeager rode the X-1, attached to the belly of a B-29 bomber, to an altitude of 25,000 feet. After releasing from the B-29, he rocketed to an altitude of 40,000 feet. Moments later he became the first person to break the sound barrier, safely taking the X-1 he called Glamorous Glennis to a speed of 662 mph, faster than the speed of sound at that altitude. His first words after the flight were, ‘I’m still wearing my ears and nothing else fell off neither.’

Captain Chuck Yeager on Rogers Dry Lake with the Bell X-1, 1948.
Captain Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, at Rogers Dry Lake with the Bell X-1, 1948.

“Yeager was born in February 1923 in Myra, W. V. In September 1941, he enlisted as a private in the Army Air Corps. He was soon accepted for pilot training under the flying sergeant program and received his pilot wings and appointment as a flight officer in March 1943 at Luke Field, Ariz.

Aviation Cadet Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

“His first assignment was as a P-39 pilot with the 363rd Fighter Squadron, Tonopah, Nev. He went to England in November 1943 and flew P-51s in combat against the Germans, shooting down one ME-109 and an HE-111K before being shot down on his eighth combat mission over German-occupied France on March 5, 1944. He evaded capture by the enemy when elements of the French Maquis helped him to reach the safety of the Spanish border. That summer, he was released to the British at Gibraltar and returned to England. He returned to his squadron and flew 56 more combat missions, shooting down 11 more enemy aircraft.

Second Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Forces, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

“Returning to stateside, Yeager participated in various test projects, including the P-80 Shooting Star and P-84 Thunderjet. He also evaluated all the German and Japanese fighter aircraft brought back to the United States after the war. This assignment led to his selection as pilot of the nation’s first research rocket aircraft, the Bell X-1, at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.). After breaking the sound barrier in 1947, Yeager flew the X-1 more than 40 times in the next two years, exceeding 1,000 mph and 70,000 feet. He was the first American to make a ground takeoff in a rocket-powered aircraft. In December 1953 he flew the Bell X-1A 1,650 mph, becoming the first man to fly two and one-half times the speed of sound.

Captain Charles E. Yeager, USAF with a North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, Los Angeles, 21 January 1949. (© Bettman/CORBIS)
Captain Charles E. Yeager, USAF with a North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, Los Angeles, 21 January 1949. (Bettman/CORBIS)
Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A rocketplane. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A rocketplane. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Charles E. Yeager, USAF, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, 1958. (Stars and Stripes)
Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, 1st Fighter Day Squadron, with North American Aviation F-100F-15-NA Super Sabre, 56-3950, George Air Force Base, California, 1958. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, 1st Fighter Day Squadron, 413th Fighter Day Wing, with North American Aviation F-100F-15-NA Super Sabre, 56-3950, George Air Force Base, California, 1958. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, United States Air Force, 306th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, 1958. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Yeager became Commandant of the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, 23 July 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, commanding the 405th Fighter Wing, with crew chief TSGT Rodney Sirois, before a combat mission with a Martin B-57 Canberra during the Vietnam War. (Stars and Stripes)

“After a succession of command jobs, Yeager became commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School (now the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School), where all military astronauts were trained.

Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, in the cockpit of a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 4 December 1963. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, in the cockpit of a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 4 December 1963. (U.S. Air Force)

“On Dec. 10, 1963, he narrowly escaped death while testing an NF-104 rocket-augmented aerospace trainer. His aircraft went out of control at 108,700 feet (nearly 21 miles up) and crashed. He parachuted to safety at 8,500 feet after battling to gain control of the powerless aircraft. He thus became the first pilot to make an emergency ejection in the full pressure suit needed for high altitude flights. Yeager has flown more than 200 types of military aircraft and has more than 14,000 hours, with more than 13,000 of them in fighter aircraft.

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force, July 1969. (Stars and Stripes)

“Yeager retired from active duty in the U. S. Air Force in March 1975, after serving as the United States defense representative to Pakistan and director of the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center, Norton AFB, Calif.

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, made his final flight as an active duty officer aboard A McDonnell F-4C Phantom II at Edwards AFB, 25 February 1975. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, made his final flight as an active duty officer aboard a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II at Edwards AFB, 25 February 1975. (U.S. Air Force)

“Retirement was never part of his plans. He remains an active aviation enthusiast, acting as adviser for various films, programs and documentaries on aviation. He has published two books, entitled Yeager, An Autobiography and Press On: Further Adventures in the Good Life.”

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 thoughts on “13 February 1923

  1. Two weeks prior to the X-1 flight North American test pilot George Welch is thought to have exceeded the speed of sound in an F-86. Sonic booms were heard at Muroc dry lake that morning. Supposedly the claim was rejected because there was no telemetry set up at the field. Remains a controversy.

    1. Thank you, Paul. In my opinion, George Welch absolutely did break the sound barrier before Yeager. Please see This Day in Aviation’s article for 1 October 1947 at https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/1-october-1947/ Interestingly, Yeager was not well known to the general public before the publication of Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” in 1979, when he became the public face of the research test pilot. Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, I was well acquainted with Scott Crossfield, Pete Knight, Tony LeVier (a friend of my mother’s family), but I don’t think I had ever heard of Chuck Yeager.

      1. Thanks Bryan. Best account I have seen of Welch’s flight. Many dispute the event but I believe it occurred. The 86 has always been my favorite fighter. A beautiful plane!

      2. Those of us in aviation knew Chuck and of Chuck long before “the right stuff” was written and yes several WWII pilots did exceed Mach in P-47s when in dives and full power but most never survived due to loss of control. However Chuck did it officially and with telemetry and observers which is the making of all records.

        1. Thank you, Kurt. That’s why I specified “the general public.” As to how well known he was within the aviation community, I can’t say. That was before my time. Possibly the most highly complimentary thing ever said about Yeager by a contemporary test pilot was when Scott Crossfield wrote that he doubted that any pilot other than Yeager could have survived the inertial-coupling incident in the X-1A.

          I was just doing some research and was checking the official Air Force list of U.S. fighter aces of World War II. With 11 credited kills, Chuck Yeager is ranked at number 144. Preceding him on the list are many very well-recognized names. For example, with 13 kills, Robin Olds ranked 118th. The man who very likely beat Chuck Yeager through the sound barrier, George S. Welch, is ranked 59th with 16 kills. . . See TDiA for 14 October 1947 for that story:

          https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/14-october-1947/

          As for P-47 pilots exceeding the speed of sound in dives, I doubt very much that that ever happened. See TDiA for 13 November 1942 for the story of Bunny Comstock and his high-speed dive in a P-47:

          https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/13-november-1942/

  2. He may be a great pilot but only an arrogant ahole would put down another pilots accomplishments like Dick Rutan’s and Jeanna Yeager. Plus he was lucky after he got shot down in Germany not skilled.
    As for balls, John Glenn and company. To me character is defined by skill and humility a very rare characteristic throughout history.

    1. Although I have met General Yeager, I do not know him well enough to say whether or not he is “arrogant.” But I do disagree about “luck.” A fighter pilot may survive the war with some luck, but he doesn’t score that many aerial victories without a tremendous amount of skill. As for being shot down, you are aware that Major General Robert M. White, X-15 test pilot and Air Force Cross recipient, was also shot down and captured? Brigadier General Frank Kendal (“Pete”) Everest, Jr., X-2 test pilot was shot down and captured in the CBI in 1944. Gabby Gabreski was a PoW until the end of the war. Famed test pilot Bob Hoover was shot down, captured and remained a guest of the Luftwaffe until he stole an Fw 190 and flew away? General Yeager volunteered to serve his country before we were at war. He rose from an enlisted man/aircraft mechanic to be one of the leading fighter aces of the war. He came from a small West Virginia town with a high school education and rose to the rank of Brigadier General, commanded various tactical Air Force units, as well as the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base. He served in combat in two wars. Arrogant? Maybe. But I think we can cut the General a little slack.

  3. I would rank Joe Engle right there with Yeager and Hoover. He was the best I ever saw, especially flying the F-100. He later flew the X-15 and the Space Shuttle.

  4. Roommates at Aviano AB, Italy 1960 in the 309th Tac. Ftr. Sq. Flying F-100s. We relieved Yeager’s Squadron the 306th on that deployment. Joe then attended the Test Pilot School at Edwards. Remained there to fly the X-15 16 times. Then Apollo where he was trained as a Lunar Module Pilot. Program ended before he got a launch. Space Shuttle next where he did initial testing on the space craft then flew in orbit twice. The best pilot I have known.

  5. I was one of the flight surgeons at Edwards from 1984-1988, and had the opportunity to meet BGen Yeager multiple times. He was always polite and friendly. Did he have an ego? Yeah, but so does just about every fighter pilot I ever met, goes with the territory. Arrogant? No, don’t think so, at least I never saw it. Of course, most pilots,(even retired Generals) are on their best behavior around the flight doc…

    I’ve never met MGen Engle, but everybody I knew who had flown with him said he was one of the best pilots they ever saw.

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