Chuck Yeager

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Chuck Yeager : biography

13 February 1923 –

Yeager demonstrated outstanding flying skills and combat leadership. He became the first pilot in his group to make "ace in a day," shooting down five enemy aircraft in a single mission. Two of his "ace in a day" kills were scored without firing a single shot: when he flew into firing position against a Messerschmitt Bf 109, the pilot of the aircraft panicked, breaking to starboard and colliding with his wingman. Yeager later reported both pilots bailed out. He finished the war with 11.5 official victories, including one of the first air-to-air victories over a jet fighter (a German Messerschmitt Me 262).

Another victory, which was not officially counted for Yeager, came during the period before his combat status was reinstated. During a training flight in his P-51 over the North Sea, he happened on a German Junkers Ju 88 heavy fighter attacking a downed Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress crew. Yeager’s quick thinking and reflexes saved the B-17 crew, but because he was not yet cleared for flying combat again, his gun camera film and credit for the kill were given to his wingman, Eddie Simpson. (Yeager later mistakenly recalled that the credit had given Simpson his fifth kill.)

In his 1986 memoirs, Yeager recalled with disgust that "atrocities were committed by both sides" and went on to recount going on a mission with orders from the Eighth Air Force to "strafe anything that moved."Samuel 2004, p. 454.Coady 2008, p. 13. During the mission briefing, he whispered to Major Donald H. Boschkay, "If we are going to do things like this, we sure as hell better make sure we are on the winning side." Yeager further noted, "I’m certainly not proud of that particular strafing mission against civilians. But it is there, on the record and in my memory."Yeager and Janos 1985, pp. 63, 80.

Yeager was commissioned a second lieutenant while at Leiston, and was promoted to captain before the end of his tour. He flew his 61st and final mission on January 15, 1945, and returned to the United States in early February. As an evader, he received his choice of assignments and, because his new wife was pregnant, chose Wright Field to be near his home in West Virginia. His high number of flight hours and maintenance experience qualified him to become a functional test pilot of repaired aircraft, which brought him under the command of Colonel Albert Boyd, head of the Aeronautical Systems Flight Test Division.Yeager and Janos 1985, p. 60.

Postwar

Yeager remained in the Air Force after the war, becoming a test pilot at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base). After Bell Aircraft test pilot "Slick" Goodlin demanded $150,000 to break the sound "barrier," the USAAF selected Yeager to fly the rocket-powered Bell XS-1 in a NACA program to research high-speed flight.Yeager and Janos 1985, p. 121.Wolfe 1979, pp. 52–53.

Such was the difficulty in this task that the answer to many of the inherent challenges were along the lines of "Yeager better have paid-up insurance."Yeager and Janos 1985, p. 157. Two nights before the scheduled date for the flight, Yeager broke two ribs falling from a horse. He was so afraid of being removed from the mission that he went to a veterinarian in a nearby town for treatment and told only his wife, as well as friend and fellow project pilot Jack Ridley about the accident. On the day of the flight, Yeager was in such pain that he could not seal the X-1’s hatch by himself. Ridley rigged up a device, using the end of a broom handle as an extra lever, to allow Yeager to seal the hatch of the X-1.

Yeager broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the X-1 at Mach 1.07 at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13,700 m). The New York Times, December 22, 1947. Quote: "An experimental rocket plane, the Bell XS-1, has flown faster than the speed of sound a number of times recently, Aviation Week reports in an issue to be released tomorrow." Yeager was awarded the MacKay and Collier Trophies in 1948 for his mach-transcending flight, and the Harmon International Trophy in 1954. The X-1 he flew that day was later put on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.