Fighter pilot, ace, test pilot, commander, and legend, Brigadier General Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager has blazed many new trails in nearly 50 years of flying. Joining the US Army Air Forces at age 18, by 1943 he was ready for combat. Flying P-51 Mustangs in the 363rd Fighter Squadron from Leiston, England, he scored his first victory in March 1944, downing an Me-109 over Berlin. But his fortune changed quickly, and the next day he was shot down over France on his eighth combat mission. Although wounded, Yeager evaded capture for 3 weeks, and with the help of the French Maquis, escaped through Spain. Regulations prohibited his return to combat flying, but Yeager made a personal plea to General Eisenhower and became the first "evader" to face the Luftwaffe again.
After 64 combat missions, including one on which he shot down 5 enemy aircraft and another on which he downed an Me-262 jet fighter, he returned home a double ace with at least 13 victories. He took an assignment to Wright Field, Ohio, where, as an assistant maintenance officer, he flew everything he could get his hands on. Within 2 weeks, he was piloting America's first effective jet fighter, the P-80 Shooting Star. Colonel Albert Boyd, Commander of the Flight Test Division, recognized the young West Virginian's talent and set him on a legendary career in flight testing.
On 14 October 1947, flying the Bell X(S)-1, he entered the history books as the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound. Other exploits, such as his near disastrous Mach 2.4 flight in the Bell X-1A and secret evaluations of the MiG-15, contributed to the legacy of a man known as the " greatest test pilot of them all." In 1954, he returned to operational flying in the F-86 Sabre, where he excelled as Commander of the 417th Fighter Squadron at Hahn Air Base, Germany, and Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France. Later, he commanded the 1st Fighter Squadron, 413th Fighter Wing, George Air Force Base, California, flying the F-100 Super Sabre. After a tour as Commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California, from 1961 to 1966, he again returned to operations at Clark Air Base, Philippines.
As Commander of the 405th Fighter Wing, he flew 127 combat missions in Southeast Asia in the B-57 Canberra, F-100 Super Sabre, F-102 Delta Dagger, and F-4 Phantom II. In March 1975, he retired from the Air Force, honored as the first active duty airman inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He has won many awards, including the MacKay, Collier, and Harmon trophies.
The Korean War accelerated the development of new fighters, and on 3 August 1954, Major "Chuck" Yeager became the first USAF pilot to fly the XF-104 Starfighter. Pushing the revolutionary thin-winged prototype to new limits, he tested stability and performance...factors that could be crucial if this lightweight fighter was going to become a frontline interceptor. Yeager's flight was an important step and paved the way for the more than 2,500 F-104 Starfighters that eventually saw service in 15 air forces around the world.