Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager was arguably the greatest pilot the United States military ever produced. During World War II he flew 64 combat missions and shot down 12.5 enemy aircraft (he got an assist on one of those, hence the .5), including five on October 12, 1944. He flew another 127 missions during the Vietnam War. He flew more than 150 types of aircraft for more than 100,000 hours. He also trained countless pilots and astronauts, and consulted on all manner of aviation issues. But it was the events of October 14, 1947, for which he is best known.
That was the day he went to the Mojave Desert, climbed into a Bell Aircraft X-1 named Glorious Glennis (in honor of Mrs. Yeager), took her up to 43,000 feet, where he put the pedal to the floor, exceeding a speed of 700 miles per hour, and sending a sonic boom thundering across the sunbaked terrain as he became the first man ever to exceed the speed of sound. Not bad for a guy who just six year earlier had enlisted in the Army Air Forces to become an aviation mechanic and who just days earlier had broken two of his ribs while racing his wife on horseback. He was in so much pain that he need to use a broomstick as a lever in order to close the hatch of his plane that day.
In 1953, after Scott Crossfield became the first pilot to go twice the speed of sound, and was due to be feted as "the fastest man alive," Yeager hopped in a plane and went even faster, 2.4 times the speed of sound, just to spoil the party.
And just for laughs, Yeager marked the 65th anniversary of his historic flight by hopping into an F-15 Eagle with Captain David Vincent and once again breaking the sound barrier. He was 89.