Member # 722
Maj. Gen. Robert Michael White, 85, passed away on March 17, 2010 in Orlando, FL.
A command pilot astronaut and decorated military veteran, Major General White broke a number of altitude and speed records with the North American X-15 experimental aircraft during the 1960s and supervised the design and development of several modern military aircraft.
White was born in New York City on July 6, 1924. He entered active military service in 1942 as a cadet in the U.S. Air Force and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. During WWII, while serving with the 355th Fighter Group in the European Theater of Operations, he was shot down over Germany and remained a prisoner of war until 1945.
In the Korean War, he served as a fighter pilot and flight commander with the 40th Fighter Squadron based at Johnson Air Base in Japan.
During the Vietnam War, he flew 70 combat missions over North Vietnam and led the attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross.
White earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from New York University, a Master of Science degree in business administration from George Washington University and attended the USAF Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base where he later served as assistant chief of the Manned Spacecraft Operations Branch and commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center responsible for the research and flight testing of manned and unmanned aerospace vehicles, including the F-15 Air Superiority Fighter and the A-X ground attack aircraft.
In 1958, the Air Force designated White its primary pilot for the North American X-15 program that bridged the gap between manned atmospheric flight and the space program. He set a new air speed record in 1961, flying the X-15 at a speed of 2,275 mph; later became the first human to fly an aircraft at Mach 4 and then Mach 5. In 1961, he became the first pilot to fly a winged craft at six times the speed of sound (Mach 6), and in 1962, flew the X-15 to an altitude of 59 miles, making him the first "winged astronaut" and one of only a few who have flown into space without a conventional spacecraft.
For these accomplishments, President Kennedy conferred on White the nation's most prestigious aviation award - the Robert J. Collier Trophy.
Today, the X-15 remains the fastest airplane ever flown and the rocket-powered aircraft hangs in the Smithsonian's National Air Space Museum.
In 1975, White won his second star, became Chief of Staff of the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force and was promoted to the grade of major general. He retired from active duty on Feb. 1, 1981.
Rest in Peace, General White, and thank you for your service to our country.
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