Fly through West Virginia with these pioneers of early aviation

Orville and Wilbur Wright are generally credited with the invention and successful flying of the world’s first airplane, but did you know that West Virginia played an important role in early aviation? The Wright brothers may have developed the first successful airplane, but West Virginia’s own Paul Peck was instrumental in the advancement of aviation in the early 1900s. Peck was born in Ansted in 1889 and began flying just seven years after the Wright brothers first took flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina!

It took Peck just seven days to learn to fly, and within two weeks he had captured a world flight record. Peck was bestowed the rank of Colonel by the Governor of West Virginia and gained a reputation for excellence while flying in storms. Once, in Long Island, Peck set a world duration record while flying through torrential hail and lightning. Many recognize Peck as the first pilot in West Virginia, and he was also the first to fly over the United States Capitol. Peck continued to push the limits of aviation until his untimely death mid-air in 1912.

Paul Peck isn’t the only West Virginian to push boundaries (and break barriers) in aviation. Charles “Chuck” Yeager was born in Myra in 1923 – just 11 years after Peck’s final flight. Yeager began his career as a Private in the United States Air Force during World War II, and in 1942, he enlisted in pilot training and subsequently became a P-51 fighter pilot. In 1947, Yeager stunned the world by breaking the sound barrier at 700 miles per hour in a Bell X-1 rocket airplane!

After the completion of the war, Yeager tested many experimental types of aircraft and continued to push the boundaries of aviation by breaking many speed and altitude records. In 1953, Yeager flew a Bell X-1A two-and-a-half time the speed of sound! He continued to command fighter squadrons around the world and even flew in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In 1966, Yeager was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame. Yeager was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973, and in December of 1975, the United States Congress awarded Yeager a Silver Medal that was the equivalent to a noncombat Medal of Honor. Today, Yeager Airport in Charleston is named after the brave innovator of aviation.

West Virginians Paul Peck and Chuck Yeager played crucial roles in innovating and revolutionizing aviation. They both continued to push aviation boundaries throughout their lives, and many of the advancements and technology we have today would not have been possible without their contributions. Peck and Yeager led the way for more pioneers across West Virginia for years to come!

Who is your favorite West Virginia innovator?

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This post was last updated on August 3, 2020