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General Charles Elwood ‘‘Chuck’’ Yeager, the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound, was born February 13, 1923, at Myra, on upper Mud River about seven miles from the Lincoln County seat of Hamlin. He was the second of five children born to Albert Hal and Susie Mae Sizemore Yeager. The family moved to Hamlin before young Yeager entered the first grade. In 1941, he graduated from Hamlin High School.

Yeager served in Europe during World War II and received his flight training in the military. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941 at the age of 18, starting out as an airplane mechanic, then enrolling in a flying sergeant program. He enjoyed great success as a fighter pilot, engaging the early German jets with his prop-driven P-51 Mustang. In all, he flew 64 combat missions. Yeager became ‘‘a double ace,’’ with 13 kills, and destroyed five German planes during a single historic dogfight in November 1944. Stationed in England as a fighter pilot, he was shot down March 5, 1944, on his eighth combat mission. Yeager parachuted unharmed into German-occupied France. He escaped across the Pyrenees into neutral Spain and later rejoined his squadron in England.

After the war, Yeager remained in the Air Force. He became a test pilot in a program at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) that researched high-speed flight.

On October 14, 1947, in a Bell X-1 rocket airplane dropped from a B-29 bomber, Yeager broke the sound barrier by flying 700 miles per hour, Mach 1.06, at 43,000 feet. He set another speed record on December 12, 1953, by flying two-and-a-half times the speed of sound in a Bell X-1A. Yeager’s X-1, named Glamorous Glennis after his wife, is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

On October 10, 1948, Yeager visited Charleston with a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. When he took off from the airport, he flew the jet west down the Kanawha River and under the South Side Bridge during a boat-racing event. Witnessed by the many boaters, audience and news media covering the races, it was never officially reported and has since become a beloved part of the city’s folklore.

Yeager became commander of the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in 1962. In 1968, he became a brigadier general and in 1971 was assigned as U.S. defense representative to Pakistan. He retired in 1975. Already a hero in military and aviation circles, Yeager catapulted to international celebrity with the publication in 1979 of Tom Wolfe’s novel The Right Stuff and the popular movie which followed the book. Yeager Airport at Charleston is named after General Yeager, as is nearby Yeager Bridge on the West Virginia Turnpike. An academic program for outstanding students at Marshall University, the Yeager Scholars, is named in his honor. In 2004, Congress voted to authorize the president to promote Yeager to the rank of major general. In 2005, President George W. Bush granted the promotion of both Yeager and another aviation pioneer, Billy Mitchell.

On October 14, 1997, on the 50th anniversary of his historic flight, Yeager broke the sound barrier again, flying an F-15D Eagle. On October 14, 2012, on the 65th anniversary of breaking the sound barrier, Yeager did it again in an McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle at the age of 89.

 

e-WV presents West Virginia Public Broadcasting on Chuck Yeager

 

This Article was written by Tom D. Miller

Last Revised on October 14, 2016

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Sources

Yeager, Chuck & Leo Janos. Yeager: An Autobiography. New York: Bantam Books, 1985.

World Book Encyclopedia. .

Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979.

Cite This Article

Miller, Tom D. "Chuck Yeager." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 14 October 2016. Web. 22 October 2017.

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