Brigadier General Charles “Chuck” Yeager Has Died

Brigadier General “Chuck” Yeager

Brigadier General Charles “Chuck” Yeager died in Los Angeles on Monday, December 7, 2020 at age 97. The famous pilot served in the U.S. Army Air Corps and Air Force for decades, becoming an ace fighter pilot in World War II, and continued his military flying career after the war ended. He is well known as the first pilot to break the speed of sound barrier.

On October 14, 1947, then-Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager exceeded the speed of sound over the High Desert of California. Officially, it was the first time (with proof) that Mach 1 had been exceeded… and there should be an asterisk after this statement.  This was the first time that it was successfully exceeded, as other pilots may have unknowingly exceeded this benchmark, but lost their lives as control was lost or their aircraft broke up.  It was a very important achievement for the new U.S. Air Force – a new branch of service in existence for less than a month after the Army Air Corps was restructured and renamed.

Speaking during the 50th Anniversary of breaking the sound barrier at Edwards AFB

The purpose-built Bell XS-1 (eXperimental, Supersonic), known as the X-1 later, was part of a program begun by the U.S. Army Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to exceed the speed of sound.  Initial glide tests began at the Pinecastle Army Air Field (AAF) in Florida on January 19, 1946.  Later that year, the program moved to California’s Muroc AAF base.

Chuck Yeager is 2nd from left; these men were the flight test team of the X-1 barrier-breaking flight

The program’s first powered X-1 flight occurred on December 9, 1946, on flight number 15.  Captain Yeager broke the sound barrier on flight number 50, officially reaching Mach 1.06.

Born in 1923, Chuck began his military career in 1941 as a mechanic; his flight training for the Army Air Corps began in 1942. He ended the war flying the P-51 Mustang as an ace – actually a double ace, with 13 victories. He became a flight instructor, and then embarked on his test pilot career. While serving in that capacity, he flew numerous experimental piston, jet and rocked-powered aircraft during his storied career. Later, he attended additional military schools and led various Air Force Squadrons and Wings as their commander. In June 1961 Yeager became commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School, which soon was renamed the Air Force Test Pilot School, based at Edwards AFB, California. He attained the rank of Brigadier General in 1969, and retired from the Air Force in 1975.

Speaking planeside after recreating the sound barrier-breaking flight in a F-15D Eagle

After military life, he continued to be involved in aviation, setting world records in a Piper Cheyenne in 1985 and being one of the Northrop representatives touting the F-5G/F-20 Tigershark fighter. He also took time to become a spokesman for AC Delco automotive products. Mr. Yeager was a frequent attendee of the EAA/Oshkosh Conventions, where he still flew P-51 Mustangs during the weeklong event. In 1997, he and many of the Bell X-1 flight team were honored at special tributes in the Edwards AFB area to mark the 50th anniversary of the official breaking of the sound barrier.

Chuck Yeager was at home at any airport parking ramp, like this one at Mojave, CA

There’s a saying that goes something like this: “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots”. Of course there are exceptions to every rule though, and Chuck Yeager is indeed one of the very few exceptions to this statement. Rest in Peace, General Charles Yeager; our condolences go to his family and friends from the,, and team.

Yes, General Yeager was still flying fighters in 1997!

This article contains previously published material from a 2015 article.

Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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