Charles “Chuck” Yeager was the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound. He was a famed test pilot and WWII flying ace whose exploits have been chronicled in several books and movies including, The Right Stuff. The Bell X-1 experimental aircraft he broke the sound barrier in is currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC along with the Wright Brothers plane and the spacecraft that first landed on the moon. Chuck grew up in the town of Hamlin in Lincoln County, West Virginia.
Yeager enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces and started out as a plane mechanic but his persistence and the outbreak of WWII gave him the chance to fly. During WWII his tenacity and amazing eyesight (20/10) allowed him to excel in aerial dogfights. He once took down five enemy aircraft in one mission.
After the war, Yeager remained in the Air Force and became a test pilot. He was eventually selected to fly the experimental, rocket powered Bell X-1 aircraft in an attempt to break the sound barrier. This was an extremely dangerous feat and a number of men died attempting it. There were many at the time who felt it was a practical impossibility to fly faster than sound. When planes approached the sound barrier they began to vibrate and shake violently and many broke apart or exploded. Then on October 14, 1947, with two broken ribs, Yeager flew at Mach 1.07 and became the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound. This accomplishment put Yeager in an elite class of flight pioneers with the likes of Orville Wright, Charles Lindberg, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong
Yeager continued as a test pilot for many years and flew combat missions in Vietnam. He retired from the Air Force in 1975 as a brigadier general. In 2004 Congress voted to let the President promote him to major general in recognition of his many accomplishments. A post-retirement promotion of this type is extremely rare and has only been done a few times in U.S. history.
There is a monument to Chuck Yeager along US 119 just south of Charleston, WV and a statue to him in his home town of Hamlin. The airport in Charleston is also named after Yeager.
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