American History

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet (Chuck Yeager)

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We all have to admit it that when we’re doing genealogy research to learn about our families’ histories, we secretly hope to find someone famous in our family trees. Or maybe not so secretly.

Wouldn’t it be cool to say, “I’m related to so and so”? We hope for it to be someone brave, who achieved something no one in the world had before and has a pretty high wow factor.

Since I was a young boy I’ve always been fascinated with airplanes and the men that flew them. Chuck Yeager has always been an interest of mine especially after learning that we’re both from West Virginia.  For most, it would be invigorating to be related to Chuck Yeager. Yeager is a legend in air and space circles throughout the world because he was the first man to go faster than the speed of sound.

Yeager was born in 1923 near Hamlin, West Virginia. His early life was what you would call normal, with a lot of time spent working on his father’s trucks. He graduated from high school in 1941, not long before the United States entered World War II.

The young Yeager became a member of the Army Air Corps and went through flight training in 1942. Yeager had the eyesight, coordination and cool demeanor that made him a top pilot. After receiving his wings in 1943, he went on to fly 64 combat missions in Europe.

After the war, Yeager was assigned to Wright Field, Ohio as an assistant maintenance officer in the Flight Test Division. Basically, Yeager was a test pilot for planes in development. Yeager didn’t think he had a shot at the division because he had only graduated high school, but his performance in the air more than made up for any lack of schooling.

In July 1947, Yeager and the team started work with the Bell X-1, named “Glamorous Glennis” for Yeager’s wife, to break the sound barrier. The process with the X-1 was nothing like Yeager had experienced before in flight. He didn’t take off from an airstrip — the airplane was dropped from a B-29 and fired rocket engines to accelerate.

The first few flights were simple glide tests, but on August 29, powered tests began. On Oct. 14, 1947, Yeager broke past Mach 1, the speed of sound (758 mph), but the world didn’t find out about it until 1948. While everyone else praised Yeager for his achievement, the man himself said that his ride was “nothing more than a poke through Jell-O.”

Do you have any famous ancestors in your family tree?

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Will Moneymaker

Will established Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has helped genealogy researchers for over 25 years. He is also a freelance photographer, husband of twenty-eight years, father of four children, and has one grandchild.