Considered "the greatest test pilot of them all," Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager is best known for piloting the first aircraft faster than the speed of sound. Born in 1923, he earned his wings in the Army Air Forces in 1943, and was assigned to the 363rd Fighter Squadron which deployed to England in November. After only eight combat missions, his P-51 Mustang was shot down over southern France by a German Focke Wulf 190 on 5 March 1944. Just the day before, he achieved his first aerial victory by downing a Messerschmitt 109. Despite being wounded, he evaded capture for 3 weeks and with the aid of the French Maquis, returned safely to England via Spain. Yeager boldly enlisted the personal support of General Eisenhower to become the first "evader " to return to combat.
He then distinguished himself as a top-notch fighter pilot, flying 64 combat missions and winning at least 13 aerial victories, including five on one mission, all before his 23rd birthday. He also downed an Me-262 jet fighter in his propeller-driven P-51. He returned to the US in February 1945 to serve as an instructor pilot, and 5 months later he moved to Wright Field, Ohio, where he began his career in experimental flight test. During the next 9 years, he became a legend in American aviation, flying many different experimental aircraft. He made aviation history on 14 October 1947 by piloting the Bell X-1 research rocket aircraft over the California desert through the sound barrier--Mach 1--despite broken ribs sustained the night before in a horseback riding accident.
He returned to operational flying in F-86 Sabres in October 1954, serving as Commander of the 417th Fighter Squadron at Hahn Air Base, Germany, and Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France. He later commanded the 1st Fighter Squadron, 413th Fighter Wing, George Air Force Base, California, beginning in April 1958, flying the F-100 Super Sabre. After completing Air War College in June 1961, he became Commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School until 1966.
He then commanded the 405th Fighter Wing, Clark Air Base, Philippines, where he flew 127 combat missions in Southeast Asia. Following a tour as Commander, 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, from February 1968 to July 1969, he served in various staff assignments until his retirement from active duty in March 1975. General Yeager received many awards and honors during his career, among them the prestigious MacKay, Collier, and Harmon trophies. He was the first person ever inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame while on active duty.
Between October 1949 and October 1952, Major "Chuck" Yeager demonstrated the capability of the XF-92A, the first powered delta wing aircraft ever to fly. On the second of his 19 test missions in the aircraft, he commented, "It was a tricky plane to fly, but ... I got it out to l.05 Mach." This was .20 Mach faster than the aircraft's developer, Convair, had attained. During the same flight, he decided to see how slow he could land it. Pointing the nose up at a 45-degree angle of attack, he landed at a speed of only 67 mph--more than 100 mph slower than Convair's test pilot.