The Great Games of a Great American Hero

There have been plenty of video games made featuring American heroes. Day of the Tentacle, for example, is full of them.

One that doesn't get enough credit (at least as a gaming "character"), though, is legendary pilot Chuck Yeager.

Born in 1923, Yeager enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces just two months prior to America's entry into the Second World War. Graduating from flight training in 1943, he was sent to the United Kingdom where he'd fly P-51 Mustangs (all named after his girlfriend, Glennis) for most of the war.

With only one German "kill" to his name, Yeager was shot down in early 1944 over France, where the Resistance helped smuggle him and another downed Allied airman through to nuetral Spain, and from there he made his way back to England. Despite being an airman, Yeager was of great help to the Resistance along the way, helping them construct bombs. He'd later receive the Bronze Star for helping the other airman - who had lost part of his leg - cross the Pyrenees mountains.

The Great Games of a Great American Hero
Glamorous Glen III, Yeager's workhorse of the Second World War

Back in the UK by May 1944, Yeager would go on to be one of America's most accomplished fighter pilots, ending the war with 11.5 kills from 61 missions. Remarkably, five of those came in a single day's combat, earning him the incredibly rare honour of being an "ace in a day" (five kills being the threshold after which a pilot may be called an "ace").

Flown back to the US before the war ended, Yeager, now a Captain, began working with the Aeronautical Systems Flight Test Division at Edwards Air Force base. He stayed on with the Air Force after the war, and by 1947 would be flying the experimental Bell X-1, becoming the first human being to ever travel faster than the speed of sound.

By 1955, however, and having reached a maximum speed of Mach 2.44 in a Bell X-1A a few year earlier, Yeager was back in a more frontline role. He would spend the next 14 years leading squadrons of fighters and fighter-bombers in Europe and the United States, culminating in a return to combat in Vietnam between 1966-68.

The Great Games of a Great American Hero
Yeager in his years as a test pilot

He would spend the years between 1969-73 in Pakistan, serving as an advisor to that nation's air force, and after one more stint in Germany retired from the Air Force in 1975, at the rank of Brigadier General and with over a dozen commendations to his name.

So what's all this got to do with video games? Well, thanks to both his Second World War and test pilot accomplishments, Yeager had become a celebrity of sorts, and in the 1980's Electronic Arts signed him up to appear as the face of three flight simulator games it would release between 1987 and 1991.

Not only that, Yeager was also directly involved in the development of the games, serving as a technical consultant and lending his advice and experience to the way planes handled and the way campaigns were written and constructed.

The first game, Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer, was a non-combat title, where you took the role of a test pilot flying various propeller and jet aircraft of the 20th century. It had a sequel in 1989, both of which were renowned as excellent, feature-packed games, but the third Chuck Yeager game, Chuck Yeager's Air Combat, was the pick of the bunch.

This was no pedestrian flight simulator. Chuck Yeager's Air Combat was a guided tour of 20th century air combat, provided by Yeager himself, who lent his face, words and digitised voice to the game. Spanning the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam, you could create custom missions, fly campaigns and even step into Yeager's shoes and try and recreate his "ace in a day" accomplishment.

Like other flight games of the time, Chuck Yeager's Air Combat had a brutal side to it. If you were killed (or sometimes when you ejected over enemy territory), you'd lose not only the mission, but your entire save game file as well.

It handled well, was fun to fly and gave you a lot of variety in its missions thanks to its different time periods, making it one of the all-time great flight simulators. In a lot of ways, it was just like the man himself.

At the age of 88, Yeager is still alive today, and lives in Penn Valley, California with his second wife Victoria Scott D'Angelo (his first wife, Glennis, who while dating he'd named his P-51 after, passed away in 1990).

FUN FACT: Yeager was blessed with exceptional (and rare) 20/10 vision, which not only helped him as a pilot, but once let him shoot a deer from 600 yards away.
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