Brigadier General Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager is one of America's most distinguished aviation pioneers and airpower heroes. He enlisted in the US Army Air Corps in 1941 and received his wings under the "flying sergeant" program in 1943. While flying the P-51 with the Eighth Air Force in England, General Yeager scored 13 aerial victories five in one mission. He also downed one of the first operational German jet fighters in combat. He was shot down over German occupied France in early 1944, but he escaped capture when elements of the French underground helped him reach the Spanish border. He became an experimental test pilot following World War II and was a member of the initial cadre selected to fly the Bell X-1, the nation's first research rocket aircraft. "Chuck" Yeager flew the X-1 on more than 40 flights and reached speeds exceeding 1,000 miles per hour and 70,000 feet in altitude.
For these achievements in supersonic flight, he received the MacKay Trophy and the Collier Trophy. In 1953 he received the Harmon International Trophy when he reached the speed of 1,650 miles per hour in the Bell X-1A and established still another speed record. After 9 years as a test pilot, he returned to operational air force units in 1954 and commanded several fighter squadrons in Europe and the United States before becoming Commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School in 1962. He returned to combat in 1966 and flew 127 combat missions over South Vietnam in the B-57, F-100, F-102, and F-4. In the early 1970s, he became Director of Aerospace Safety at Norton Air Force Base. Throughout his extraordinary military career, "Chuck" Yeager accumulated more than 10,000 flying hours in 179 different types of aircraft. In addition to his many awards and commendations, he was the first military member on active duty to enter the prestigious Aerospace Hall of Fame at Dayton, Ohio. General Yeager retired from active duty in 1975 and currently serves as an aviation consultant with the aircraft industry.
The first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound (Mach 1) was the Bell X-1, the rocket propelled research aircraft shown in the painting. On 14 October 1947, Captain "Chuck" Yeager achieved a speed of 760.5 miles per hour and became the first man in the world to fly through the "sound barrier." For his unparalleled courage in advancing knowledge of aviation technology, the US Congress presented him a special Medal of Honor in 1976 in recognition of his extraordinary achievement and heroism.