1986 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"If there is such a thing as the right stuff, it is experience."
Born in 1923, Chuck Yeager was raised in a small, rural town in West Virginia, the second of four children in his family. His father was a natural gas driller whose job often took him away from the family during the week. Yeager has described his father as a hard working man who taught his children the importance of finishing anything they started. Doing the best job he could with whatever task was set before him became a lifelong characteristic for Yeager.
Hunting and fishing were abundant in Yeager's hometown, and he was able to put meat on the table by the time he was six. Although they were not well off, Yeager's parents provided a rich life for their children. As Yeager got older, he helped his father around drilling rigs, repairing equipment. This was his early introduction to mechanics, which served him well later in life.
In 1941, Yeager graduated from high school and immediately enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a private. He was trained as an airplane mechanic, but soon applied for the "flying sergeant" program. His excellent coordination and vision helped him be selected as a fighter pilot. Based in England, Yeager flew eight combat missions before being shot down over France, but he was able to make his way to Spain with the help of the French underground. He returned to his squadron, flew 56 more combat missions, and shot down 13 aircraft.
At the end of the war, Yeager, then a captain, was assigned to Wright Field in Ohio, which became the center of aviation technology. His combination of splendid flying abilities and knowledge of airplane systems helped make him a test pilot. After breaking the sound barrier in 1947, he flew the X-1 more than 40 times, exceeding 1,000 mph. In 1953, he flew the Bell X-1A 1,650 mph, becoming the first man to fly two and one-half times the speed of sound. He continued as a test pilot until 1954, when he took command of the 417th Fighter Squadron at Hahn Air Base in Germany. He served in France and California, graduated from the Air War College, and served as commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School. In 1966, he commanded the 405th Fighter Wing at Clark Air Base in the Philippines and supervised flying missions in Vietnam. Later, as a brigadier general, he served in Europe and then in Asia as the United States Defense representative to Pakistan.
He retired in 1975 and founded General Chuck Yeager, Inc., through which he is a consultant test pilot for the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base. He also advises various films, programs, and documentaries on aviation. He has published three books: The Quest for Mach One-A First-Person Account of Breaking the Sound Barrier, Yeager, An Autobiography, and Press On-Further Adventures in the Good Life.
Yeager says his Horatio Alger Award means a great deal to him. "It shows that hard work, dedication, and being in the right place at the right time are the basic ingredients of success in America."