Chuck Yeager was born in 1923 in Myra, West Virginia. He grew up in nearby Hamlin. He enlisted in the Army Air
Corps in September 1941, and was soon called to action. On his ninth mission, Yeager was shot down in occupied France,
and made his way to Spain and eventually back to England in time to lead a squadron during the D-day invasion on
October 12, 1944. By the end of the war, he had shot down 13 German planes.
Yeager's accomplishments during World War II and his quick reflexes and natural instincts made him an ideal candidate
for the newly created Army Air Force test pilot program located in Dayton, Ohio. The military believed that increased
aircraft speed would provide pilots with a distinct combat advantage, so aircraft speed became one of the primary
focuses of the test pilot program. An excellent benchmark for the military was to develop a plane that could travel at
Mach 1 speed or greater. Mach 1, a speed of about 660 miles per hour, is the speed at which sound travels through air.
On October 14, 1947, Yeager's Bell X-1 aircraft was placed inside the bomb bay of a B-29 bomber and brought to an
altitude of 26,000 ft. With 24-year-old Yeager in the cockpit, his plane was released at 25,000 feet. Using 2 of his 4
engine chambers, Yeager climbed to 42,000 feet, at which point he switched on his third engine chamber. His speed
indicator crept up to 700 miles per hour, 1.06 times the speed of sound for his altitude. A characteristic "sonic boom"
let bystanders on the ground know he had passed Mach 1.
Yeager's career as a pilot was far from over. He piloted test flights during the Korean War and later flew 126 combat
support missions during the Vietnam War. As commander of the Air Force's Aerospace Research Pilot School, he trained 19
astronauts. Chuck Yeager retired as a brigadier general in 1975. He continued, however, to contribute his expertise to
the development of the next generation of airplanes as a test pilot. On the 50th anniversary of his historic flight,
74-year-old Yeager flew an F-15 Eagle at supersonic speeds. Ironically, most of Yeager's recent test flights were at
subsonic speeds. Subsonic aircraft fly at speeds less than the speed of sound. Examples of such aircraft include the
F-117 fighter and B-2 bomber. Both of these planes traded speed for stealth.