Best known as the first man to break the sound barrier, Chuck Yeager has made immense contributions to airpower over nearly 50 years. Fighter pilot, ace, test pilot, commander, and aviation advocate; he has mastered every aspect of airpower. Joining the Army Air Force in 1941, he quickly proved himself a natural fighter pilot. His first combat unit was the 363rd Fighter Squadron, the first unit in Eighth Air Force to receive the P-51. Scoring his first aerial victory, he shot down an Me 109 over Berlin on his seventh combat mission. The next day, he was shot down over southern France. Although wounded, Yeager evaded capture for three weeks, returning to Britain and combat. During his 64 combat missions, he scored 13 aerial victories, including an Me 262 jet fighter, and returned to the United States a double ace.
Assigned to Wright Field as a maintenance officer, he flew everything on the ramp. Soon, he was flying America's first operational jet fighter, the P-80. His flying skill brought him to the attention of Colonel Albert G. Boyd, who launched him on his legendary career in flight testing. Boyd selected him as the principal pilot to attempt to break the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. On 14 October 1947, Chuck Yeager boomed into the record books as the first man to "capture the demon," achieving Mach 1.07. Flying the Bell X-1A in 1953, he became the first man to exceed Mach 2. His test achievements included many other records in various aircraft, earning him the Mackay, Collier and Harmon trophies. Before returning to operations, Yeager flew secret evaluations of a defected MiG-15. In 1954, Yeager returned to operational flying in the F-86, commanding the 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron at Hahn Air Base, Germany and Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France.
He returned to the United States to fly the F-100 in 1958, commanding the 1st Tactical Fighter Squadron at George AFB, California. After a stint as Commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California, he returned to combat. As Commander of the 405th Fighter Wing at Clark AB, he flew 127 combat missions in Southeast Asia in the B-57, F-100, F-102, and F-4. Yeager returned to the States as Commander of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, Seymour-Johnson AFB, North Carolina. Yeager retired as a brigadier general in 1975. Amassing more than 11,000 flying hours in 188 different aircraft, Yeager is the only military member to be inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame while still on active duty and is one of very few people to receive a special peacetime Medal of Honor.
While completing the Stability and Control Course at Edwards AFB, Yeager was selected by General Boyd to go with him to test the first generation of French jet fighters and bombers. Shortly after arrival at Marignane AB, near Marseilles, France, Yeager began flying the MD 452 Mystere jet fighter. He put it through the paces, stalling and spinning it; in September 1951, he flew it up to Paris and made the first sonic boom over that city, while in a steep dive. Many years later, in 1988, the Aero Club of France awarded Yeager the Gold Air Medal for his testing work on their jet aircraft.