Chuck Yeager, the first person to break the sound barrier and one of the U.S. Air Force’s most decorated test pilots, died Monday. He was 97.
Charles Elwood Yeager was a United States Air Force officer, flying ace, and record-setting test pilot. In 1947, he became the first pilot in history confirmed to have exceeded the speed of sound in level flight. Yeager’s career began in World War II as a private in the United States Army Air Forces in 1941. After serving as an aircraft mechanic, in September 1942 he entered enlisted pilot training and upon graduation was promoted to the rank of flight officer (the World War II USAAF equivalent to warrant officer), later achieving most of his aerial victories as a P-51 fighter pilot on the Western Front, where he was credited with 11.5 enemy aircraft.
After the war, Yeager became a test pilot of many types of aircraft, including experimental rocket-powered aircraft. As the first human to officially break the sound barrier, on October 14, 1947, he flew the experimental Bell X-1 at Mach 1 at an altitude of 45,000 feet (13,700 m), for which he won both the Collier and Mackay trophies in 1948. He then went on to break several other speed and altitude records. Yeager later commanded fighter squadrons and wings in Germany, as well as in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. In recognition of the outstanding performance ratings of those units, he was promoted to brigadier general in 1969, retiring on March 1, 1975. Yeager’s three-war active-duty flying career spanned more than 30 years and took him to many parts of the world, including the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.