Gathering of Eagles Foundation

Eagle Biography

Charles E. Yeager

Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager is one of America's most distinguished aviation pioneers and airpower heroes. Born in 1923, he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps in September 1941 at the age of 18. After completing the "flying sergeant" program in March 1943, Yeager received his wings and was appointed a flight officer. His first assignment was flying the P-39 Airacobra with the newly formed 357th Fighter Group at Tonopah, Nevada. Assigned to the Group's 363d Fighter Squadron, he soon flew combat in the P-51 Mustang from Leiston, England. 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. Despite being shot down, Yeager flew 64 combat missions against the Luftwaffe in 15 months and scored 13 aerial victories, including 5 on one mission! Following World War II, he became an experimental test pilot. On 14 October 1947, while piloting the Bell X-1, Yeager became the first man to break the "sound barrier." For his numerous achievements in supersonic flight, he received the MacKay Trophy, the Collier Trophy, and the Harmon International Trophy.

Prior to returning to operational flying, Yeager was one of a small cadre of pilots to secretly test a Russian-built MiG-15. In October 1954, he took command of the 417th Fighter Squadron at Hahn AB, Germany, and in April 1958 he assumed command of the 1st Fighter Squadron at George AFB, California. After commanding the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California, Yeager returned to combat as the Commander of the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing at Clark AB, Philippines. From 1966 to 1968, he flew 127 combat missions over South Vietnam. Brigadier General Yeager culminated an illustrious Air Force career in 1975 as the Director of Aerospace Safety at Norton AFB, California. He amassed more than 11,000 flying hours in 188 different aircraft and has the distinction of being the first active duty military member enshrined into the prestigious Aviation Hall of Fame.

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In September 1953, Major Yeager was summoned to Kadena AB, Okinawa, for a highly classified mission. US Forces had acquired a Russian built MiG-15, that had been flown to South Korea by a defecting North Korean pilot. Flight tests were performed to compare the combat qualities of the MiG. Yeager conducted a complete flight test profile to plot the aircraft's speed, power, climb rate, and range. He pushed the aircraft beyond its normal flight envelope despite a week of heavy winds, rain, and low ceilings. The results of his exhaustive efforts confirmed intelligence estimates of the MiG's capabilities and were of key importance in developing air-to-air tactics for US fighters.

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