Rank Insignia Previous Honoree ID Next Honoree ID

honoree image
First Name: Robert

Last Name: White

Birthplace: New York City, NY, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: Michael

Date of Birth: 06 July 1924

Date of Death: 17 March 2010

Rank: Major General

Years Served:
Robert Michael White

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)
•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)
•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Robert Michael White
Major General, U.S. Air Force

Robert Michael White was born on 6 July 1924 in New York, NY.

Military Career

White entered active military service in November 1942 as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Forces, and received his pilot wings and commission as a Second Lieutenant in February 1944.

During World War II, he flew P-51 Mustangs with the 355th Fighter Group in the European Theater of Operations 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 U.S., left active duty in December 1945, and became a member of the Air Force Reserve at Mitchel Air Force Base, NY, while studying Electrical Engineering at New York University. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from NYU in 1951 and a Master of Science degree in Business Administration from 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 AFB. 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 to the U.S. to serve as a Systems Engineer at Rome Air Development Center, Griffiss AFB, NY.

Test Pilot Program

White attended the U.S. Air Force's Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, CA, 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.

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 AFB, AL, graduating in 1959. He made his first test flight in the X-15 on 15 April 1960, when the aircraft was fitted with two interim, 16,000 lbf thrust rocket engines. Four months later, he flew to an altitude of 136,000 feet 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 following the installation of a 57,000 lbf 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 4,093 mph; 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 U.S. 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. 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 and 314,750 feet 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 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron. He returned to the U.S. in August 1965 to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Washington, DC, and graduated a year later. Lt. Col. White then was transferred to Air Force Systems Command at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, as chief of the Tactical Systems Office, F-111 Systems Program Office, where he served from September 1966 to May 1967.

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 11 August 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 U.S. and Wright-Patterson AFB 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 AFB, 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 was promoted to the grade of Major General effective 12 February 1975, with date of rank from 1 July 1972. In March, he became Chief of Staff of the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force.

Major General White retired from active duty on 1 February 1981.

Medals and Awards

Air Force Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star Medal (4 Awards)
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross (5 Awards)
Bronze Star Medal
Air Medal (17 Awards)
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon with "Valor" Device.

White was a Command Pilot Astronaut. For his achievements in the X-15 aircraft, he received the Harmon International Aviators Trophy.

Air Force Cross

Colonel Robert M. White

U.S. Air Force

Date Of Action: August 11, 1967

Citation: 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.


• In 1992, White was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor.

• General White was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, OH, 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. However, Space Ship One and White Knight pilot/astronaut, Brian Binnie, reports this is not true.

Death and Burial

Major General Robert Michael White died on 17 March 2010 in Orlando, FL. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Honoree ID: 99   Created by: MHOH




Honoree Photos

honoree imagehonoree imagehonoree image

honoree imagehonoree image

honoree image