Status: Deceased; Active 1960-1962. Born: 1924-07-06. Died: 2010-03-17. Spaceflights: 1 . Total time in space: 0.0072 days. Birth Place: New York, New York.
Born in New York City; married with four children. Degrees in electrical engineering (BS, New York University, 1951) and business administration (MBA, George Washington University, 1966). Flew P-51's in World War II, but was shot down on 52nd mission and held in German POW camp until the war was over. Graduated from Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards in 1954. Named as back-up USAF X-15 pilot in 1957 and became prime when Ivan Kincheloe was killed in an air crash in July 1958. He made 16 flights, including 95.9 km astronaut wings flight. After leaving the X-15 program in 1962, he was Chief of Staff, Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force, Europe. Retired from USAF with rank of Major General on February 1, 1981. He currently is living in Germany.
Official USAF Biography
MAJOR GENERAL ROBERT M. WHITE
Retired Feb. 1, 1981
Major General Robert M. White is chief of staff, Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
General White was born in New York City in 1924. He attended New York public schools, 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. He graduated from the Air Command and Staff College in 1959 and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in 1966.
He entered active military service in November 1942 as an aviation cadet 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 aircraft 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, N.Y. During this period he attended New York University.
General 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, N.Y. 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, N.Y.
General White moved to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in June 1954, where he attended the USAF Experimental Test Pilot School. He then 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 that period he made research flights in the X-15 aircraft. On Nov. 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. On July 17, 1962, General White flew the rocket-powered X-15 research aircraft 59.6 miles above the earth. For this feat, he won the Air Force rating of winged astronaut--the first one awarded to a pilot.
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, D.C., and graduated a year later. General 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.
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 General 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.
In November 1972 General White assumed duties as commandant, Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. He became chief of staff of the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force in March 1975.
He is a command pilot astronaut. His military decorations and awards include 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 Medal, 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 National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Distinguished Service Medal.
He was promoted to the grade of major general effective Feb. 12, 1975, with date of rank July 1, 1972.
(Current as of December 1975)
Selected: 1960. Departed Date: 1962-12-14. Marital Status: Married. Children: Four children. Education: NYU;Edwards.
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN MARCH 23, 2010
Robert M. White, who played an important role in the development of manned spaceflight as the first pilot to fly a winged craft into outer space, died Wednesday in Orlando, Fla. He was 85.
His death was announced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
In the early 1960s, Major White, an Air Force pilot, was among those who pushed the envelopes of speed and altitude flying above the California desert out of Edwards Air Force Base, the fliers profiled by Tom Wolfe in “The Right Stuff.”
On July 17, 1962, he flew the rocket-powered X-15 plane to an altitude of 314,750 feet, or 59.6 miles, almost 10 miles above Earth’s atmosphere. “This gets better all the time,” United Press International quoted him as saying as he neared the end of his flight. “It’s a fantastic view.”
Major White was awarded the Collier Trophy for aviation from President John F. Kennedy, and he was recognized by the Air Force as a winged astronaut.
He never achieved the enduring celebrity status of the Mercury 7 astronauts or of Chuck Yeager, who broke the sound barrier in 1947, but he was the Air Force’s prime pilot for the X-15 program, which studied the effects of heat on aircraft surfaces at extremely high speeds and altitudes, and the physiological impact on fliers. Those X-15 flights helped propel NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions as well as the space shuttle program.
He was also the first flier to pilot a winged aircraft at four, five and then six times the speed of sound, exceeding that final milestone on Nov. 9, 1961, when he flew his X-15 at 4,093 miles an hour.
Major White hardly personified the image of the cocky test pilot.
“He was the eternally correct and reserved Air Force blue-suiter,” Mr. Wolfe wrote in “The Right Stuff.”
“He didn’t drink. He exercised like a college athlete in training. He was an usher in the Roman Catholic chapel of the base and never, but never, missed Mass,” Mr. Wolfe wrote. “He was slender, black-haired, handsome, intelligent — even cultivated, if the truth were known. And he was terribly serious.”
Robert Michael White was born in New York City on July 6, 1924, and entered military service in 1942. He flew more than 50 fighter missions during World War II before he was shot down over Germany in February 1945 and taken prisoner.
After leaving military service in December 1945, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from New York University. Re-called during the Korean War, he served with a fighter squadron based in Japan, and in the mid-1950s he was assigned to Edwards.
Returning to combat in the Vietnam War, he flew 70 missions over North Vietnam and received the Air Force Cross, the service’s highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor, for leading an August 1967 attack on an important railway and highway bridge in the Hanoi area. He retired from military service in 1981 as a major general.
General White is survived by his sons Greg, of Orlando, and Dennis, of Sarasota, Fla.; his daughters Pamela White, of Pelham, Ala., and Maureen McFillin, of Hoover, Ala.; his brother, Albert, of Eastchester, N.Y.; and four grandchildren. His wife, Chris, died before him.
After his flight into outer space, the major was featured on the cover of Life magazine next to the quote, “Boy, That Was a Ride.”
His persona, however, was unchanged.
“White had not unbent as much as one inch for the occasion,” Mr. Wolfe wrote. “You could see them straining to manufacture one of those ‘personality profiles’ about White, and all he would give them was the Blue Suit and a straight arrow. That was Bob White.”
In a US Air Force briefing a preliminary astronaut selection for the Man-In-Space Soonest project is made. The list consisted of USAF test pilots Robert Walker, Scott Crossfield, Neil Armstrong, Robert Rushworth, William Bridgeman, Alvin White, Iven Kincheloe, Robert White, and Jack McKay. This was the first preliminary astronaut selection in history. The project was cancelled when NASA was formed in and took responsibility for all manned space flight on 1 August 1958. Prospective contractors estimated it would take from 12 to 30 months to put the first American in orbit. In retrospect the orbital flight portion of NASA's Mercury program was paced by the availability of the Atlas booster. Therefore it is unlikely Man-in-Space-Soonest would have put an American in orbit any earlier than Mercury.