Gen Robert Michael White


Birth: Jul. 6, 1924
New York
New York County (Manhattan)
New York, USA

Death: Mar. 17, 2010
Orange County
Florida, USA

X-15 Pilot. Major General White attended public school in New York, earned a bachelors degree in electrical engineering from New York University in 1951 and a masters in business administration from George Washington University. In 1959 he graduated from the Air Command and Staff College.

In November 1942 he began active military service as an aviation cadet and received his pilot wings and promotion to second lieutenant in February 1944. During World War II he flew with the 355th Fighter Group in Europe, flying the P-51 from July 1944 until his 52nd Mission in February 1945 when he was shot down over Germany. Captured he was a prisoner of war until release in April 1945.

He left active duty in December 1945, and became a member of the Air Force Reserve at Mitchel Air Force Base, New York while attending New York University. Due to the Korean War, he was recalled to active duty in May 1951 as a pilot and engineering officer with the 514th Troop Carrier Wing at Mitchel Air Force Base, New York. In February 1952 he was assigned as a fighter pilot and flight commander with the 40th Fighter Squadron, based near Tokyo, Japan.

In August 1953 he returned from overseas to serve as a systems engineer at Rome Air Development Center, Griffiss Air Force Base, New York. In June 1954 he transferred to Edwards Air Force Base, California, where he attended the United States Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School. He served as a test pilot and deputy chief of the Flight Test Operations Division, and later as assistant chief of the Manned Spacecraft Operations Branch. During this period he piloted research flights in the X-15 aircraft. On November 9, 1961, he became the first man to fly a winged craft six times faster than the speed of sound when he flew his X-15 at 4,093 miles per hour. He was the first man to fly Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He became the first man to fly above 200,000 feet and the first to fly above 300,000 feet. He was the first to exceed 3,000 miles per hour. On July 17, 1962, he flew the rocket-powered X-15 aircraft 59.6 miles above the earth. For this feat, he won the Air Force rating of winged astronaut, the first winged aircraft pilot to earn astronaut wings. At that time this made him the fifth United States astronaut.

In October 1963 he returned to Germany, where he served as operations officer for the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing at Bitburg, and later as commander of the 53d Tactical Fighter Squadron. He returned to the United States in August 1965 to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Washington, District of Columbia and graduated a year later. He 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.

In May 1967 he received a Southeast Asia assignment as deputy commander for operations, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. He completed 70 combat missions in F-105 aircraft over North Vietnam. In October 1967 he became chief, attack division, Directorate of Combat Operations at Seventh Air Force Headquarters, Tan Son Nhut Airfield, Republic of Vietnam.

He returned to the United States and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in June 1968, where he served as director of the F-15 Systems Program in the Aeronautical Systems Division, Air Force Systems Command.

In August 1970 he assumed duties as commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 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 known as AWACS.

In October 1971 he completed the Naval Test Parachutist course and was awarded parachutist's wings. In November 1972 he assumed duties as commandant, Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He became chief of staff of the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force in March 1975.

His military decorations and awards include the Air Force Cross which is the second highest Air Force medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with three oak leaf clusters, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with four oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal with 16 oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon with "V" device which indicates combat or direct combat support actions. For his achievements in the X-15 aircraft, he received the Harmon International Aviators Trophy, the Collier Trophy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Distinguished Service Medal.

He was promoted to the grade of Major General effective February 12, 1975, with date of rank July 1, 1972. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio. On December 16, 2005 he was inducted into the Florida Aviation Hall of Fame alongside Brigadier General Paul Tibbets and Chalmers H. "Slick" Goodlin at the Florida Air Museum in Lakeland, Florida. His Air Force Cross citation reads as: "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."
 (bio by: Nevada Bob) 
Family links: 
  Christa K White (1942 - 2007) 

Arlington National Cemetery
Virginia, USA
Plot: Buried June 24, Sec 60 Plot 540



Robert M. White dies at 85; pilot made history with 1962 test flight into space

The retired Air Force major general and decorated war veteran was the first pilot to exceed Mach 6. In 1962 he flew an X-15 research plane nearly 60 miles above Earth and then landed it on a dry lake.

March 24, 2010|By Dennis McLellan

Robert M. White was a 38-year-old U.S. Air Force major and record-setting test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in 1962 when he joined the elite ranks of America's four astronauts.

But Mercury astronauts Alan Shepard, Virgil Grissom, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter went into space seated atop ballistic missiles and returned in capsules that parachuted onto the ocean.

White did it as the pilot of a rocket-powered X-15 research airplane, flying nearly 60 miles above the Earth's surface and completing a conventional landing on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

His out-of-this-world adventure earned him the distinction of being the first man to earn a winged astronaut rating by piloting an airplane in space.

White, a retired Air Force major general who also was a decorated veteran of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, died of age-related causes in his sleep March 17 at an assisted-living facility in Orlando, Fla., said his son, Greg. He was 85.

"He lived his whole life, it seems, on the edge of danger, and he died so peacefully," said Greg White.

Jim Young, chief historian at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, said White was "one of the major icons in aerospace history."

"It's been so many years since his achievements," Young said, "but they were extraordinary and remain extraordinary to this day."

A 1954 graduate of what is now the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, White became the first lead Air Force project pilot for the X-15 flight research program that was launched by NASA, the Air Force and the Navy. The first flight was in 1958.

During an eight-month span in 1961, White achieved three milestones.

On March 7, 1961, he became the first pilot to exceed Mach 4, attaining a top speed of 2,905 mph.

On June 23, 1961, he became the first pilot to exceed Mach 5, recording a speed of 3,603 mph.

And on Nov. 9, 1961, during the first full-throttle flight of the X-15, he became the first pilot to exceed Mach 6, attaining a top speed of 4,094 mph.

Then, on July 17, 1962, White flew the X-15 to an altitude of 314,750 feet -- 59.6 miles above Earth.

"This is a fantastic view," he reportedly radioed while flying weightless.

He said after landing that it was too cloudy to see the ocean, "but I could see the coastline of the Western United States from well above San Francisco Bay down into Mexico."

Calling him "the nation's newest space hero," Life magazine featured a photo of White on its cover greeting son Greg, then 7, after the flight. Said the headline: "Boy, That Was a Ride."

At a 1962 ceremony on the White House South Lawn, President Kennedy presented what had been called the nation's most treasured aviation award, the Robert J. Collier Trophy, to White and three fellow X-15 pilots.

The X-15 was the forerunner of the space shuttle, whose first orbital flight was in 1981.

"They were flying during a remarkable period in the history of flight," Young said of the X-15 pilots. "When Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier at Mach 1 in the Bell X-1 [in 1947], he flew at about 700 miles per hour.

"Just over 14 years later, Bob White is flying at Mach 6 and just over 4,000 miles per hour. It was an extraordinary time at Edwards Air Force Base," Young said.

In his book "The Right Stuff," Tom Wolfe described the handsome, nondrinking, churchgoing White as "the eternally correct and reserved Air Force blue-suiter."

Young said White "was quiet and unassuming, and a very thoughtful guy. He never let the press clippings and all the attention go to his head."

Born July 6, 1924, in New York City, White became an Army Air Forces cadet in 1942 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

He served with the 355th Fighter Group in Europe, where he was shot down over Germany in 1945 and became a prisoner of war.

During the Korean War, he served as a fighter pilot and flight commander with the 40th Fighter Squadron based in Japan.

And during the Vietnam War, he flew 70 combat missions over North Vietnam and received the Air Force Cross for leading a 1967 strike on the heavily defended Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi.

White earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from New York University in 1951 and a master's in business administration from George Washington University in 1966.

His various assignments included serving as commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards in the early 1970s.

White's second wife, Chris, died in 2007.

In addition to his son Greg, he is survived by his other children from his first marriage, Dennis, Pamela White and Maureen McFillin; his brother, Albert; and four grandchildren.

From 8/12/2015


From Johnny Armstrong's Facebook page.  Test Pilot School is in the background.