Brigadier General Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager is one of America's best-known pioneer aviators and a true air power hero. Born in 1923, he grew up in Hamlin, West Virginia, where he attended high school. He enlisted in the US Army Air Corps at age 18, and received his wings and appointment as a flight officer in 1943. In 15 months of World War II combat service, he flew 64 missions against the Luftwaffe in the P-51 Mustang . On his eighth combat mission, he was shot down over southwestern France. After nearly a month with the French Maquis, he and three other Americans evaded German patrols and crossed the Pyrenees to neutral Spain.
After returning to England, Yeager personally convinced Eisenhower to allow him to return to combat flying. One of the few Americans to shoot down five enemy aircraft in 1 day, Yeager had 13 confirmed victories, including one of the first Luftwaffe Me-262 jet fighters, when the war ended. Upon returning to the United States, he became a test pilot and was selected to fly the Bell X(S)-1, the nation's first rocket-powered research aircraft. On 14 October 1947, Captain Yeager became the first pilot to break the sound barrier. In 1953, flying the Bell X-1A, he became the first pilot to exceed Mach 2.
In 1958, Yeager led the 1st Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) to Europe on Tactical Air Command's first flawless overseas deployment. After commanding the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards AFB, he became Wing Commander of the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Clark AB, Philippines. From 1966 to 1968, he flew 127 combat missions over South Vietnam in the B-57 Canberra, F-100 Super Sabre, F-102 Delta Dagger, and F-4 Phantom II aircraft. Assigned next to Seymour Johnson AFB, he commanded the famous 4th Tactical Fighter Wing when it deployed to Korea in response to the Pueblo crisis.
Brigadier General Yeager has flown more than 11,000 hours in 188 types of aircraft. His many awards include the MacKay, Collier, and Harmon Trophies. He also received a Congressional Medal for his many contributions to aviation research, and was the first active duty military member inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. General Yeager retired from the Air Force in 1975 but continues to fly the most advanced aircraft in his role as consultant and spokesman for America's aviation companies.
As Commander of the 405th TFW, Colonel Yeager was responsible for the performance, morale, and well-being of over 5,000 men and 5 squadrons of aircraft deployed throughout Southeast Asia. Due to the distances between his units, he trusted his squadron commanders to get the job done and made regular visits to monitor their combat performance. Most of the wing's combat missions took place in South Vietnam, but losses were nonetheless common. The wing's flying mission varied from close air support flown by B-57s out of South Vietnam to an alert commitment on Taiwan by F-100s. Air defense was flown by two squadrons, one of which, the 64th TFS, became the first unit in PACAF to receive the Hughes Trophy--an annual award given to the best USAF air defense unit. Colonel Yeager's leadership, combined with the dedication of the wing personnel, earned the 405th a reputation throughout the Air Force.