West Virginia International Yeager Airport, Marshall University staff and special guest Victoria Yeager today unveiled a new exhibit dedicated to Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, in partial observance of the 75th anniversary of Yeager’s becoming the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound on Oct. 14, 1947.
“We are thrilled to showcase the historical achievements of Gen. Chuck Yeager at West Virginia International Yeager Airport for all those passing through the airport to see,” said Airport Director and CEO Dominique Ranieri. “Gen.Yeager’s influence on our airport and on the aviation community at large is undeniable.”
The exhibit, which is located in the airport’s observation area, includes artifacts that were donated to Marshall University by Yeager in December of 1986.
Lori Thompson, Marshall’s head of special collections, said that among the materials in the display are a framed copy of “Bell XS-1 Makes Supersonic Flight,” from Aviation Week, December 22, 1947; a plaque presented for years of dedicated service from the U.S. Air Force; a sculpture on a wooden base commemorating the 50th anniversary of breaking the sound barrier in 1997; and a plaque presented by the Charleston Gazette-Mail for “West Virginian of the Year.”
“Gen. Yeager, the most notable aviator in the world, meant so much to aviation and to West Virginia,” said Bill Noe, Marshall’s chief aviation officer. “We at Marshall are pleased to join the airport in presenting this exhibit.”
The long-term goal is to have a rotation of shows about Yeager that draw from the university’s archives, said Dr. David Pittenger, a professor at Marshall who also works with the flight school. These shows will be curated by a Marshall student studying history under the supervision of Thompson and other members of the faculty.
Yeager, for whom the airport is named, was a United States Air Force officer, flying ace and record-setting test pilot.
Early Pilots in Aviation
When you think back to the earliest pilots in aviation, your mind quickly goes to two names. Orville and Wilbur Wright. And rightfully (no pun intended) so. 117 years ago, the two brothers piloted the first airplane near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. And thus, North Carolina got the title of “First in Flight.”
West Virginia also has a seat at the table when it comes to the early pilots in aviation. The mountain state is home to a pioneer in aviation. Paul Peck was a world record holder, the first pilot to transport U.S. Mail, and one of the first U.S. Military aviation instructors. And he was also from West Virginia.
Who was Paul Peck?
Born in 1889 in Ansted, West Virginia, Peck grew up in Hinton. As a kid, Peck took an interest in cars and liked to work on their motors. His love of machinery, specifically engines, led him to the skies.
In 1911, just seven years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight, Peck took his first flight lesson at 22-years-old. He would go on to learn how to fly in just seven days and became the 57th pilot to be licensed by the International Aeronautics Federation. Peck is often thought of as the first pilot in West Virginia.
Two weeks after earning his pilot’s license, Peck set a world speed record in Washington, DC covering 24 miles in 25 minutes. Peck would go on to do many other firsts as a pilot.
- The first pilot to carry U.S. Mail via airplane
- The first pilot to fly over the U.S. Capitol (set the speed record)
- Set an endurance record in Boston, flying for four hours, 23 minutes, and 15 seconds
- One of three officers chosen by the War Department to learn to fly under Glenn H. Curtiss
- An instructor at the nation’s first military aviation school
Peck was well known in his day for being able to fly extremely well in stormy weather, once setting a world record during a hailstorm. However, a storm ultimately led to his death.
Peck’s Final Flight
Peck’s final flight was in 1912, just one year after becoming a pilot. Peck was representing the United States in the International Gordon Bennett Trophy Race in Chicago. On a windy and stormy evening before the race, Peck took off on what would be his final flight. During his ascent, the motor on Peck’s plane came loose. His plane went into a steep and rapid descent and Peck was unable to pull up before the plane hit the ground. He was 23 years old when he died.
Why then, with all of these accomplishments, is Peck’s name not up there with the Wright Brothers, Lindbergh, and other early pilots in aviation? Good question. Peck died only one year after he started flying. You could argue that he did not fly long enough to achieve name recognition. However, you could also argue that given all of the accomplishments listed above were all done in less than a year, Peck’s name should be much more widely known. Especially in his home state of West Virginia.
And for what it is worth. In 1923, 12 years after Paul Peck passed away, a man by the name of Charles Yeager was born in Myra, West Virginia. So, I would say the mountain state definitely has a seat at the table when it comes to pioneering modern aviation.
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Information for this article was gathered from the Charleston Gazette and West Virginia Tourism.