Major General Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, the first pilot to fly to Mach 4, 5, and 6 (four, five, and six times the speed of sound) was born on this day in 1924. He accomplished these flights between 1960 and 1962 while flying the X-15 as a U.S. Air Force test pilot. In July of 1962, he broke the world altitude record by flying the X-15 to 95.91 kilometers (314,700 feet or 59.6 miles). The Air Force designated 50 miles altitude as the start of space, so this flight qualified then-Major White for his astronaut wings. He was the first person to earn astronaut wings in a winged vehicle.
White was a veteran of World War II, the Korean, and Vietnam wars. In 1945, his P-51 fighter plane was shot down in Germany and White spent more than a month in a Prisoner of War (POW) camp before he was liberated. After setting multiple aviation records in the X-15, White went on to a variety of military leadership positions, including command the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in the early 1970s. He retired from the Air Force in 1981 as a 2-star (Major) General. White died on March 27, 2010, at the age of 85 - one of the very rare old and bold pilot
Image #: ECN-101
Date: February 7, 1961
Owner: NASA on The Commons
Source: Flickr Commons