Robert Michael White: Wikis


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This article is not about Robert M. White, American theoretical physicist
Robert Michael White
Robert M. White.jpg
USAF Astronaut
Born July 6, 1924(1924-07-06)
New York City, New York
Died March 17, 2010 (aged 85)
Other occupation Test Pilot
Selection 1957 MISS Group
Missions X-15 Flight 62
Mission insignia X-15 insignia.png
Nickname Bob
Service/branch Seal of the US Air Force.svg United States Air Force
Years of service 1942-1946 1951-1981
Rank US-O8 insignia.svg Major General
Commands held 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron
Battles/wars World War II
Vietnam War
Awards Air Force Cross ribbon.svg Air Force Cross
Air Force Distinguished Service ribbon.svg Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star ribbon-3d.svg Silver Star (4)
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg Distinguished Flying Cross (5)
Air Medal ribbon.svg Air Medal (17)

Major General Robert Michael White (6 July 1924 - March 17, 2010) was a military aircraft test pilot and a major general in the United States Air Force. White broke a number of records with the North American X-15 experimental aircraft during the 1960s, and supervised the design and development of several modern military aircraft.


Background and career

White was born in New York on 6 July 1924. He entered active military service in November 1942 as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Forces, and received his pilot wings and commission as a second lieutenant in February 1944.

During World War II he served with the 355th Fighter Group in the European Theater of Operations, where he flew P-51 Mustangs from July 1944 until February 1945 when he was shot down over Germany on his 52nd combat mission. He was captured and remained a prisoner of war until his release in April 1945. He then returned to the United States, left active duty in December 1945, and became a member of the Air Force Reserve at Mitchel Air Force Base, New York, while studying electrical engineering at New York University. He earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from New York University in 1951 and a master of science degree in business administration from The George Washington University in 1966.

White was recalled to active duty in May 1951, during the Korean War, where he served as pilot and engineering officer with the 514th Troop Carrier Wing at Mitchel Air Force Base. In February 1952 he was assigned as a fighter pilot and flight commander with the 40th Fighter Squadron, based at Johnson Air Base, Japan. In August 1953 he returned from overseas to serve as a systems engineer at Rome Air Development Center, Griffiss Air Force Base, N.Y.

Test pilot program

White attended the U.S. Air Force's Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, and became a test pilot, flying advanced models such as the F-86 Sabre, F-89 Scorpion, the new F-102 Delta Dagger and the F-105 Thunderchief. He was promoted to deputy chief of the Flight Test Operations Division, later becoming assistant chief of the Manned Spacecraft Operations Branch.

X-15 in flight.

White was designated the Air Force's primary pilot for the North American X-15 program in 1958. While the new plane was undergoing its initial tests, he attended the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, graduating in 1959. He made his first test flight of the X-15 on April 15, 1960, when the aircraft was fitted with two interim, 16 000 lbf (71 kN) thrust rocket engines. Four months later he flew to an altitude of 136 000 ft (41.5 km, above Rogers Dry Lake. White would have participated in the Air Force's Man In Space Soonest program, had it come to fruition.

In February, 1961, White unofficially set a new air speed record when he flew the X-15 at a speed of 2 275 mph (3660 km/h), following the installation of a 57 000 lbf (254 kN) thrust XLR-99 engine. White was the first human to fly an aircraft at Mach 4 and later Mach 5 over the next eight months. On 9 November 1961, White flew the X-15 at 4093 mph (6590 km/h), making him the first pilot to fly a winged craft at six times the speed of sound (Mach 6). President John F. Kennedy used the occasion to confer the most prestigious award in American aviation, the Robert J. Collier Trophy, jointly to White and three of his fellow X-15 pilots; NASA's Joseph Walker, CDR Forrest S. Peterson of the United States Navy, and North American Aviation test pilot Scott Crossfield. A day later, Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis E. LeMay awarded White his new rating as a Command Pilot Astronaut.

On 17 July 1962, Major White flew the X-15 to an altitude of 314 750 feet (59 miles, 96 km). This qualified him for an Astronaut Badge, becoming the first "Winged Astronaut", one of few who have flown into space without a conventional spacecraft.

Pilot Robert White commented on his high altitude X-15 flights, "My flights to 217,000 feet [66 km] and 314,750 feet [96 km] were very dramatic in revealing the Earth's curvature ... at my highest altitude I could turn my head through a 180-degree arc and wow! — the Earth is really round. At my peak altitude I was roughly over the Arizona/California border in the area of Las Vegas, and this was how I described it: Looking to my left I felt I could spit into the Gulf of California; looking to my right I felt I could toss a dime into San Francisco Bay."

Post-test pilot career

In October 1963 he returned to Germany, where he served as operations officer for the 22nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, 36th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying F-105 Thunderchiefs at Bitburg Air Base, and from July 1964 to August 1965 as commander of the wing's 53d Tactical Fighter Squadron. He returned to the United States in August 1965 to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Washington, D.C., and graduated a year later. Lt. Col. White then was transferred to Air Force Systems Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, as chief of the Tactical Systems Office, F-111 Systems Program Office, where he served from September 1966 to May 1967.

F-105D at Takhli RTAFB.

In May, 1967, during the Vietnam War, Col. White was assigned as Deputy Commander for Operations of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, an F-105 unit based at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. He flew 70 combat missions over North Vietnam, including leading an attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi on August 11, 1967, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross. He was transferred in October to the Seventh Air Force Headquarters at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, serving as chief of the Attack Division in the Directorate of Combat Operations.

White returned to the United States and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in June 1968, where he served as director of the F-15 Eagle Systems Program, responsible for managing development and production planning, in the Aeronautical Systems Division, Air Force Systems Command.

On 31 July 1970, White assumed duties as commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where he was responsible for research and developmental flight testing of manned and unmanned aerospace vehicles, aircraft systems, deceleration devices and for the Air Force Test Pilot School. During his tenure as commander, testing was begun on such important programs as the F-15 Air Superiority Fighter, the A-X ground attack aircraft, and the Airborne Warning and Control System. In October 1971 he completed the Naval Test Parachutist course and was awarded parachutist's wings.

He served at the Flight Test Center until 17 October 1972. The following month, he assumed the duties of Commandant, Air Force Reserve Officer's Training Corps. In February 1975, he won his second star and in March became Chief of Staff of the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force.

White was promoted to the grade of major general effective February 12, 1975, with date of rank July 1, 1972. He retired from active duty on February 1, 1981.

In 1992, White was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor. General White was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton Ohio, on 15 July 2006. A rumor abounds that in honor of his achievements, the Scaled Composites White Knight spacecraft launch plane was named after White and fellow X-15 pilot Pete Knight. Space Ship One and White Knight pilot/astronaut Brian Binnie reports this is not true.

Awards and decorations

White was a command pilot astronaut. His military decorations and awards included the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with three oak leaf clusters, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with four oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star, Air Medal with 16 oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon with "V" device. For his achievements in the X-15 aircraft, General White received the Harmon International Aviators Trophy, the Collier Trophy and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.


Air Force Cross citation

Colonel Robert M. White
U.S. Air Force
Date Of Action: August 11, 1967

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Colonel Robert M. White, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-105 Mission Commander near Hanoi, North Vietnam, on 11 August 1967. On that date, Colonel White led the entire combat force against a key railroad and highway bridge in the vicinity of Hanoi. In spite of 14 surface-to-air missile launches, MIG interceptor attacks, and intense antiaircraft artillery fire, he gallantly led the attack. By being the first aircraft to dive through the dark clouds of bursting flak, Colonel White set an example that inspired the remaining attacking force to destroy the bridge without a single aircraft being lost to the hostile gunners. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Colonel White reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.


  • Thompson, Milton O. (1992) At The Edge Of Space: The X-15 Flight Program, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London. ISBN 1-56098-107-5

External links


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