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  Space Cover 165: Bob White and the X-15

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Author Topic:   Space Cover 165: Bob White and the X-15

Posts: 1239
From: Washington, DC, USA
Registered: Apr 2003

posted 06-09-2012 05:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for micropooz   Click Here to Email micropooz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Space Cover of the Week, Week 165 (June 10, 2012)

Space Cover #165: Bob White and the X-15

Well, in our ongoing bios of unsung X-15 pilots (SCOTW 80, 118 and 143), let's now focus on Air Force pilot Robert M. (Bob) White.

Fifty years ago next month, Bob White (not to be confused with Al White, who was Crossfield's NAA backup for the X-15) became the first X-15 pilot, and fourth American, to earn Astronaut Wings. He broke the (then) arbitrary 50-mile-high boundary of space on July 17, 1962 when he soared to 59 miles altitude in the X-15 as commemorated on the above cover. This cover carries the Boy Scout rubber-stamped X-15 cachet, with some custom rubber stamps for the flight, and an Edwards AFB postmark from the day of the flight.

One minute prior to being dropped from the B-52 mother plane on this flight, the X-15's primary flight control system dropped out. White calmly reset the circuit breaker for this essential function, and continued, something that would never have continued in today's risk-averse environment. After the drop he shut down the engine just a few seconds late, sending him 6+ miles higher than planned, but either way, an Astronaut Wings flight...

Bob White was a P-51 Mustang pilot in the European Theater during World War II. He was shot down over Germany and was held as a prisoner-of-war until February 1945. He first flew the X-15 on April 13, 1960. Flying the X-15, he went on to become the first pilot to break Mach 4, Mach 5, and Mach 6. His 16th and last X-15 flight was on December 14, 1962.

I could show you covers for all of White's X-15 flights mentioned in the previous paragraphs, and they'd all look a lot like the cover at the top of this article. So, instead, let's take a look at another Bob White cover that I've had in my Edwards AFB exhibit in the "Not Every Day Was a Record Setter" section:

On September 12, 1960, White made a test flight in an F-100 Super Sabre fighter (also known as a "Hun") and carried the above cover with him. He autographed it and mailed it back to the requester on September 15. I bought this cover back in 2000 and wrote to White about it. He didn't recall this exact flight, but mentioned that the test pilots had to do periodic spin recovery practice, often in Huns. One of my favorite covers...

After White's stint in the X-15 program, he went on to fly 70 combat missions in F-105 Thunderchief fighters (also known as "Thuds") in Viet Nam, came back to command the Air Force Flight Test Facility at Edwards in 1970, and ultimately retired from the Air Force as a Major General. Robert M. White died in 2010 and was fittingly buried in Arlington Cemetery.

His autobiography was published posthumously: Higher and Faster: Memoir of a Pioneering Air Force Test Pilot by Robert White and Jack L. Summers, 2010.

A true, unsung American hero...

(With many thanks to Al Hallonquist who contributed to this article)


Posts: 2103
From: Stuart, Florida, USA
Registered: Jun 2000

posted 06-09-2012 10:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for albatron   Click Here to Email albatron     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well written Dennis, well written.

If I may add, he held aviation several records in the X-15, and also was awarded the Air Force Cross for his heroism in Viet Nam, the Air Forces next highest award to the Medal of Honor.

The book is an excellent read, and available on Amazon. And my grandson will not charge to sign it (an inside joke).

Bob M

Posts: 1367
From: Atlanta-area, GA USA
Registered: Aug 2000

posted 06-10-2012 12:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Bob M   Click Here to Email Bob M     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Evidently Major White was busy flying during September 1960, as only two days after he flew Dennis' cover on an F-100, he flew the cover below on an F-106. The covers are very similar and both were flown for a collector, Mr. Patka, from Austria.

Interesting that both covers have an "X" marked on them and possibly/probably were applied by Major White to indicate to him that they had been flown.


Posts: 1239
From: Washington, DC, USA
Registered: Apr 2003

posted 06-10-2012 01:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for micropooz   Click Here to Email micropooz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
First off, thank you again Al!

And for Bob, wow! I didn't dream that there were more of the jet-flown White covers out there.

Thanks guys!

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