FIRST TO FLY FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF SOUND
Charles E. Yeager, better known as “Chuck Yeager,” was born in West Virginia on February 13, 1923. He was one of five children. Chuck inherited much of his skill with machinery from his father who was known as a master mechanic. In school, Chuck received his best grades in mathematics and in courses that required mechanical dexterity.
Chuck joined the Army in 1941 to fight in World War II. In the beginning, he was assigned to work on airplanes. Later, after being commissioned an officer, he entered flight training and became a fighter pilot. He had the opportunity to fly several aircraft; however, he eventually was assigned to fly one of the finest airplanes of the war, the North American P-51 Mustang.
Chuck was an exceptional combat pilot, and aside from his mechanical talents, he had incredible eyesight for flying an airplane. When he and his squadron flew into an area where enemy fighters were known to be operating, Chuck could often see the German fighters long before they saw him. This gave Chuck and his squadron a tactical advantage crucial moments before the aerial combat started. Chuck became an ace in one day by shooting down five enemy aircraft before returning to his home base.
After WWII ended, Chuck returned to the United States, where he eventually became a test pilot. He was assigned to a little-known base located on the high desert of California. This Army Air Field eventually became the now-famous Edwards Air Force Base. Chuck was assigned to test numerous aircraft, but it was the Bell XS-1 that brought him international fame. On October 17, 1947, Chuck pushed the rocket-powered aircraft to a speed that was faster than the speed of sound. This velocity was commonly called “breaking the sound barrier,” but it was more accurately referred to with the scientific term “Mach One.” The speed of sound is approximately 760 miles per hour at sea level. The word “Mach” is the last name of Ernst Mach, the scientist who first determined how fast sound traveled. It was also found that the speed of sound is not constant, but rather it changes with altitude and temperature. It was determined that the XS-1, later designated the “X-1,” was traveling 662 miles per hour when it reached Mach 1.0 at 40,000 feet.
Chuck Yeager made the Air Force his career and retired in 1975 with a rank of Brigadier General. For his outstanding contributions to the science and technology of flight, Chuck Yeager was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.
Younger youth. Outstanding student, World War II fighter ace, record-shattering test pilot, distinguished General Officer and more—Chuck Yeager is an award-winning leader who epitomized the phrase “Can Do!” throughout his career, and he achieved unequalled results. Hi success as a test pilot who first broke the sound barrier was especially important and constituted a significant contribution to the advancement of supersonic flight research and development. In fact, it was so significant that the actor, Humphrey Bogart, portrayed Chuck Yeager in a very successful movie that dramatized this singularly important achievement. Moreover, he did it all without the use of drugs! Chuck Yeager is a courageous and intelligent person with a spectacular life-long record of achievement. Chuck Yeager knows and lives a life exemplifying the importance of remaining drug-free. Way to be!
Older youth. Flying at the speed of mach one was no minor feat. Knowledge that the sound barrier even existed was still fairly new, and researchers had little to no knowledge about its characteristics or what an airplane might need in order to successfully exceed it. As planes approached mach one, the plane would vibrate intensely, and the controls would not respond to the pilot’s commands. Attempts to achieve mach one prior to Chuck Yeager’s first successful flight resulted in failure, often with loss of the plane and sometimes the life of the pilot. Some believed that flying beyond the speed of sound was not even possible. Chuck Yeager proved otherwise, and his success eventually led to development of planes that now fly several times the speed of sound, and at altitudes on the very fringes of space itself. Chuck Yeager was an extraordinary test pilot with tremendous courage. He never abused substances, as he knew full well the importance of staying in top physical and mental condition- certainly no place for impairment from any kind of substance abuse. Chuck Yeager appreciates the importance of staying drug-free. Way to be!
This curriculum is sponsored by the Drug Demand Reduction
Program of the Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
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