Tag Archives: Harmon Trophy

3 June 1961

Major Eugene Moses, Navigator, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Defensive Systems Officer, and Major Elmer E. Murphy, Aircraft Commander, with Colonel James K. Johnson, stand in front of the Convair B-58, The Firefly, 11 May 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)
Major Eugene Moses, Navigator, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Defensive Systems Officer, and Major Elmer E. “Gene” Murphy, Aircraft Commander, with Colonel James K. Johnson, stand in front of the Convair B-58, The Firefly, 11 May 1961. All three airmen were killed when their B-58 crashed at the Paris Air Show, 3 June 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)

3 June 1961: At the Paris Air Show, Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget, Paris, France, the Blériot, Harmon and Mackay Trophy-winning Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, 58-2451, The Firefly, crashed, killing the aircrew, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Major Eugene Moses, and First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson. The B-58 was totally destroyed.

Only days earlier, The Firefly—with a different aircrew—had set a new speed record for its flight from New York to Paris.

On leaving Le Bourget for the return trip to the United States, Major Murphy engaged in low-altitude aerobatics. There are reports that while performing a slow roll, the bomber entered a cloud bank. The pilot lost visual reference, but the roll caused the attitude indicator to exceed its limits. Disoriented and without instrument flight capability, the B-58 crashed.

The Sunday Herald (Provo, Utah) reported:

. . . The B-58 took off with five other American supersonic jets for the demonstration and flew back over the airfield at normal speed.

     Then the plane started to make what looked from the ground like a “barrel” maneuver, a roll over, and suddenly disappeared from the view of the audience at the airfield. . . .

The Sunday Herald, Vol. 39, No. 1, 4 June 1961, Page 2, Column 2

United Press International (UPI) reported,

. . . An eyewitness said the plane appeared to explode in flight after making a “barrel roll.”

     It was “transformed into a ball of fire,” said Dr. J.P Duchon. “We heard a tremendous explosion at the same time.” The B-58 crashed into some farm acreage gouging a 15-feet-deep crater in the ground.

Pharos Tribune (Logansport, Indiana), 5 June 1961, Page 2, Column 2

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published the following:

. . . According to reports from [John] Randel [correspondent for the Paris edition of the New York Herald-Tribune] and the Associated Press, this is the way the crash occurred:

     The delta-wing bomber streaked passed the control tower and disappeared into the overcast. No one at Le Bourget Airport, where the air show was being staged, saw any sign of the crash, which occurred about 5 p.m. Paris time (10 a.m. Fort Worth time).

Wheat Field.

     But at the little town of Louvres, three miles north of the airport, there was a tremendous explosion.

     The needle-nose bomber plunged into a wheat field. This was about 10 minutes after takeoff.

     The nearest building was from 500 to 800 yards away.

     Louvres police said they did not know whether the plane exploded in air or when it hit the ground.

     Fuel from the plane caught fire, sending up billows of smoke. Huge craters were cut into the ground by plummeting wreckage, indicating an aerial explosion.

     About 10 fire trucks were soon at the scene spraying water on the burning debris.

Helicopter Lift.

One report said the plane had completed a slow roll and was trying a snap roll when two or three of its four engines ripped off. This report was strictly unofficial. . . .

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Vol. 81, No. 123, 3 June 1961, Page 1, Column 1

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, 59-2451, The Firefly.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

26 May 1961

The flight crew of the Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, "The Firefly," planning the Washington, D.C.-to-Paris flight, 26 May 1961. Left to right, Captain William L. Polhemus, Captain Raymond R. Wagener and Major William R. Payne. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
The flight crew of the Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, “The Firefly,” planning the Washington, D.C.-to-Paris flight, 26 May 1961. Left to right, Captain William L. Polhemus, Captain Raymond R. Wagener and Major William R. Payne. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

26 May 1961: The Firefly, the Blériot Trophy-winning Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, serial number 59-2451, assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Wing, Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course by flying from Washington, D.C. to Paris in 3 hours, 39 minutes, 49 seconds, for an average speed of 1,687.69 kilometers per hour (1,048.68 miles per hour).¹

During the same flight, the B-58 flew the New York to Paris segment in 3 hours, 14 minutes, 44.53 seconds, at an average speed of 1,753.16 kilometers per hour (1,089.36 miles per hour).

The aircrew, Major William R. Payne, Aircraft Commander, Captain William L. Polhemus, Navigator, and Captain Raymond R. Wagener, Defensive Systems Officer, won the Harmon and Mackay Trophies for this flight.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly, lands at le Bourget, Paris, after the record-setting transatlantic flight, 26 May 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly, lands at Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget, Paris, after the record-setting transatlantic flight, 26 May 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)
The Blériot Trophy, photographed 12 June 1961. “Side view of The Blériot Trophy on display. It is the figure of a naked man made of black marble in a flying position emerging from clouds. The clouds are white stone and are the figures of women in various poses on top of a marble dome.” (University of North Texas Libraries)
The Mackay Trophy.
The Mackay Trophy
The Harmon International Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The Harmon International Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

On 3 June 1961, while enroute home, The Firefly crashed only 5 miles from Paris, killing the Blériot Trophy-winning  aircrew, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Major Eugene Moses, and First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson. The B-58 was totally destroyed.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.

The B-58A Hustler was a high-altitude Mach 2 strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator, each located in individual cockpits. The aircraft had a delta-winged configuration similar to the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors. The fuselage incorporates the “Area Rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder. There are no flaps.

The “Hustler” was 96.8 feet (29.5 meters) long, with a wing span of 56.8 feet (17.3 meters) and an overall height of 31.4 feet (9.6 meters). The wings’ leading edges were swept back at a 60° angle. The wings had a 3°0′ angle of incidence, 2°14′ dihedral, and a total area of 1,542.5 square feet (143.3 square meters).

The B-58A had an empty weight of 51,061 pounds (23,161 kilograms). Its Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) was 90,000 pounds (40,823 kilograms), but once airborne, it could take on additional fuel from a tanker, raising the bomber’s maximum weight to 125,147 pounds (56,766 kilograms).

The B-58A was powered by four General Electric J79-GE-5 afterburning turbojet engines, suspended under the wings from pylons. These were single-shaft axial-flow engines with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-5 had a continuous power rating of 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.15 kilonewtons), Military Power, 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.49 kilonewtons), and Maximum Power, 15,600 pounds (69.39 kilonewtons) with afterburner. (All ratings at 7,460 r.p.m.) The engine was 16 feet, 10.2 inches (5.131 meters) long and 3 feet, 2.0 inches (0.889 meters) in diameter. It weighed 3,570 pounds (1,619 kilograms).

The bomber had a cruise speed of 626 miles per hour (1,007 kilometers per hour) from 30,000 to 50,000 feet (9,144–15,240 meters), and a maximum speed of 1,319 miles per hour (2,124 kilometers per hour) at 56,100 feet (17,099 meters). The B-58’s service ceiling was 67,200 feet (20,483 meters).

Jet fuel (JP-4) was carried in three tanks inside the airplane’s fuselage, and two tanks in a streamlined drop tank. The total capacity of the five tanks was 15,369 gallons (58,178 liters). Its combat radius was 2,589 miles (4,167 kilometers) and the maximum ferry range was 6,483 miles (10,434 kilometers).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of W-39, B43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The W-39 was carried in the centerline pod. (A two-component mission pod was also available.) The W-39 was the same warhead used on the PGM-11 Redstone intermediate range ballistic missile and the SM-62 Snark intercontinental cruise missile. It was a two-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear warhead with an explosive yield of 3.8 megatons. The warhead weighed 6,230 pounds (2,826 kilograms). The B-43 and B-61 bombs were carried on four hardpoints under the fuselage.

There was a defensive General Electric M61 Vulcan 20 mm rotary cannon mounted in the bomber’s tail, with a maximum 1,040 rounds of ammunition. The gun was remotely-controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2456 with weapons load. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2456 with weapons load. (U.S. Air Force)

The Convair Division of General Dynamics built 116 B-58s at Forth Worth, Texas. The first XB-58 flew on 11 November 1956. Production aircraft entered service with the Strategic Air Command in 1960 and were retired in 1970. Only eight aircraft remain in existence.

Convair B-58A strategic bombers in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona. (Aviation Explorer)

¹ FAI Record File Number 4855

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

24 May 1930

Amy Johnson lands her de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth, G-AAAH, “Jason,” at Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, 24 May 1930. (Fox Photo/Getty Images)

24 May 1930: After a 19-day, 11,000-mile (17,700 kilometers), solo flight from Croyden Aerodrome, London, England, 26-year-old Miss Amy Johnson arrived at Darwin, Australia, in her de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth, G-AAAH, named Jason.¹ She was awarded a £10,000 prize from the Daily Mail newspaper.

Amy Johnson was awarded a prize of 10,000 by the Daily Mail for her flight. (DailyMail.com)
Amy Johnson was awarded a prize of £10,000 by the Daily Mail for her flight. (DailyMail.com)

Miss Johnson’s flight was made in 18 legs. From London, she flew to Aspern, Austria; San Stefano, Republic of Turkey; Aleppo, French Mandate of Syria; Baghdad, Kingdom of Iraq; Bandar-Abbas, Persia; Karachi, Sindh; Jhansi, British India; Allahabad, British India; Calcutta, British India; Insein, Burma; Bangkok, Kingdom of Siam; Singora, Siam; Singapore, Straits Settlements; Tjomal, Samarang, and Sourabaya, Dutch East Indies; Atambua, Dutch Timor; and across the Timor Sea to Darwin, Northern Territory, Commonwealth of Australia.

Route of Amy Johnson’s flight to Australia, 5–24 May 1930. (FLIGHT, 30 May 1930, No. 1118, Vol. XXII, No. 22, at Page 578.)

For her accomplishment, Miss Johnson was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.). She was also awarded the Harmon Trophy, “for the most outstanding international achievements in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”

Amy Johnson with her DH.60 Gipsy Moth at Calcutta, May 1930. (DailMail.com)
Amy Johnson with her DH.60 Gipsy Moth at Calcutta, 12 May 1930. (DailyMail.com)

Her Gipsy Moth is in the collection of the Science Museum, London, England.

Amy Johnson was a rated Engineer (aircraft mechanic) and Navigator, as well as a licensed Pilot. She had set many flight records, both individually and with her husband, James Mollison, whom she had married in 1932. He proposed to her during an airplane flight, only eight hours after having met her.

Amy Johnson arrives at Darwin in her DH60G, G-AAAH, 24 May 1930.
Amy Johnson arrives at Darwin in her DH60G, G-AAAH, 24 May 1930.

During World War II, Amy Johnson flew for the Royal Air Force as a First Officer of the Air Transport Auxiliary (equivalent to the RAF rank of Flight Lieutenant). On 5 January 1941, at approximately 3:30 p.m., Johnson bailed out of the Oxford and parachuted into the Thames Estuary. The airplane crashed into the river a short distance away and sank.

Amy Johnson’s parachute was seen by the crew of HMS Haslemere, a barrage balloon tender assigned to the Channel Mobile Balloon Barrage in the Estuary. They attempted to rescue her and in the process, the ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Walter Edmund Fletcher, Royal Navy, dove into the water. In the cold temperatures and rough conditions, Fletcher died. For his effort to rescue Johnson, he was awarded the Albert Medal, posthumously.

In recent years, stories have emerged that the AS.10 was shot down after Johnson twice gave the incorrect response to a radio challenge. Tom Mitchell, an anti-aircraft gunner of the 58th (Kent) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, at Iwade, a small village along the shore of the Thames Estuary, said in 1999 that he shot her down under orders, firing 16 shells at the Oxford. The men of the battery were ordered to never mention the incident. There were contemporary reports that a destroyer had also fired on Johnson, though the Admiralty denied this.

Amy Johnson’s de Havilland DH.60G G-AAAH. (Mirrorpix)

The de Havilland DH.60 was a light-weight, two-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane. The fuselage was covered with plywood and the wings and tail surfaces were covered with fabric. It was 23 feet, 5½ inches (7.150 meters) long with a wingspan of 29 feet, 0 inches (8.839 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 9½ inches (2.680 meters).

The airplane was designed so that the wings could be folded parallel to the fuselage, giving it an approximate width of 9 feet (2.7 meters). The wings had a chord of 4 feet, 3 inches (1.295 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 4 feet, 10 inches (1.473 meters) and lower wing was staggered 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) behind the upper. Both wings had 3.5° angle of incidence and 3.5° dihedral. There was no sweep.

Empty, the DH.60 had a weight of 764 pounds (346.6 kilograms) and loaded weight of 1,650 pounds (748 kilograms).

De Havilland DH.60 Moth three-view illustration with dimensions. (FLIGHT, 5 March 1925, Page 127)

The original DH.60 Moth, which first flew in 1925, was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 4.503 liter (274.771-cubic-inch-displacement) A.D.C. Aircraft Ltd., Cirrus inline 4-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engine with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The direct-drive engine produced 60 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 65 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The Cirrus was 0.983 meters (3.225 feet) long, 0.908 meters (2.979 feet) high and 0.450 meters (1.476 feet) wide. It weighed 260 pounds (118 kilograms). The A.D.C. Cirrus was designed by Major Frank Bernard Halford, who later designed the de Havilland Gipsy engine, as well as the Goblin and Ghost turbojet engines.

The DH.60G Gipsy Moth was first produced in 1928. It was powered by a 318.09-cubic-inch-displacement (5.212 liter) air-cooled de Havilland Gipsy I inline 4-cylinder direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5:1. It was capable of producing 130 horsepower, but de-rated to 100 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. The Gipsy I was 40.5 inches (1.029 meters) long, 29.9 inches (0.759 meters) high and 20 inches (0.508 meters) wide. It weighed 285 pounds (129 kilograms).

The Gipsy Moth has a cruise speed of 85 miles per hour (137 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 102 miles per hour (164 kilometers per hour). Range for the standard aircraft is 320 miles (515 kilometers). The service ceiling is 14,500 feet (4,420 meters).

De Havilland built 8 pre-production and 31 production DH.60 Moths. 595 DH.60s of all variants were produced at Stag Lane.

Amy Johnson's de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth, Jason, G-AAAH, at the Science Museum, London.
Amy Johnson’s de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth, Jason, G-AAAH, at the Science Museum, London. (Science Museum)

¹ Amy Johnson’s father, John William Johnson, provided £600 to pay for the airplane. He worked for Andrew Johnson & Knudtzon and Co., Ltd., which used “Jason” as a trademark. The Automobile Association’s badge appears on the Gipsy Moth at the Science Museum, although it was not present on the airplane during her record-breaking flight.

Amy Johnson (National Library of Australia nla.obj-162255730)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

30 April–13 May 1963: Betty Jean Miller

Betty Miller steps out of the Piper Apache at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 13 May 1963. (Photograph by Barry Pascoe, from the Courier Mail Photo Archives)
Betty Miller steps out of the Piper Apache at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 13 May 1963. (Photograph by Barry Pascoe, from the Courier-Mail Photo Archives)

30 April–13 May 1963: Betty Miller, a 37-year-old flight instructor from Santa Monica, California, became the first woman to complete a solo Trans-Pacific flight. She was also the first pilot to make a Trans-Pacific flight without a navigator.

Betty Miller was delivering a twin-engine Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, N4315Y, from the United States to its owner in Australia, Fred Margison. An auxiliary fuel tank was placed in the passenger compartment.

Mrs. Miller began her flight from Oakland, California, at 6:35 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. The first leg was approximately 2,400 miles (3,682 kilometers) to Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, flown in 17 hours, 3 minutes. She was delayed there for 4 days while a radio was repaired.

Betty Miller with the Piper PA-23-160 Apache H at Honolulu, Hawaii, 30 April 1963. (Salt Lake Tribune)

The next stop was Canton Island, a small island in the Phoenix Islands, just south of the Equator and approximately half-way between Hawaii and Fiji. The elapsed time for this 1,700-mile (2,736 kilkometers) flight was 13 hours, 6 minutes. From Canton to Fiji was 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers). The elapsed time was 8 hours, 27 minutes. On the fourth leg, intended to be the final stage, she was forced to divert to Noumea, New Caledonia, because of severe weather.

With delays for rest and waiting for good weather, Miller’s flight took nearly two weeks. She took off from Nadi Airport, Viti Levu, Fiji, at 4:47 a.m., local, and finally arrived at Eagle Farm Airport, Brisbane, Queensland, at 10:20 p.m., Australian Eastern Standard Time, after crossing 7,400 miles (11,909 kilometers) of ocean, in a total of 51 hours, 38 minutes in the air.

Betty Miller in the cockpit of the Piper Apache, before departing on her Trans-Pacific Flight. (Mercury News)
Betty Miller in the cockpit of the Piper Apache, before departing on her Trans-Pacific Flight. (Betty Miller collection)

Contemporary newspapers called Miller “the flying housewife,” which demeaned her actual qualifications. At the time of her Trans-Pacific flight, she was a commercial pilot and flight instructor, rated in single- and multi-engine airplanes and helicopters. She owned and operated a flight school and charter company based at Santa Monica Airport on the Southern California coast. In fourteen years as a pilot, Betty Miller had logged more than 6,500 hours of flight time.

Betty Miller with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.
Betty Miller with President John F. Kennedy at the White House. Left to right, Administrator Najeeb Halaby, Federal Aviation Administration; President Kennedy; Mrs. Miller; Mrs. Jane Briggs Hart; Mr. Charles Miller. (Robert L. Knudsen/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum KN-C29599)

President John F. Kennedy awarded Mrs. Miller the Federal Aviation Administration Gold Medal for Exceptional Service. On 14 September 1964, President Lyndon Johnson presented her with the Harmon International Trophy. (Also receiving the Harmon at the ceremony were Astronaut Gordon Cooper and test pilot Fitzhugh Fulton.)

Two years later, Mrs. Miller flew across the Atlantic Ocean.

Finally, in another first, the photograph of Betty Miller arriving at Brisbane was the very first to be transmitted by a new wire-photo process.

Betty Verret (Gondolier)

Betty Jean Verret was born 6 April 1926 at Venice, California. She was the second of three daughters of Earday Verret, a street car conductor, and Bertha DeLay Verret. She graduated from Venice High School in 1942.

Miss Verret was employed by the Civil Aeronautics Administration as an Aircraft Communicator. While working at Wendover, Utah, she met Chuck Miller. They married and lived in Santa Monica, California, where they operated a flight school.

Mrs. Miller was a member of the Ninety-Nines, the Whirly-Girls, and was chair of the FAA Women’s Advisory Committee.

Betty Jean Verret Miller died 21 February 2018 at Bountiful, Utah, at the age of 91 years.

Piper PA-23-160 Apache 23-2039, registered VH-IMB, at Archerfield Airport (ACF), near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, circa 1967. (Ed Coates Collection)

The airplane flown by Betty Miller was a Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, serial number 23-2039, manufactured in December 1961 by the Piper Aircraft Corporation at Vero Beach, Florida. It was assigned U.S. registration N4315Y and was painted white and “El Paso Brown” (a dark metallic brown color). In January 1962 the new Apache was delivered to Brown Flying Services, San Antonio, Texas.¹

The Piper PA-23-160 Apache H was a 4-place, twin-engine light airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was 27 feet, 2 inches (8.280 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0 inches (11.278 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.073 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 2,230 pounds (1,011.5 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 3,800 pounds (1,723.7 kilograms).

Lycoming O-320-B2B air-cooled 4-cylinder aircraft engine. (Lycoming)

The Apache H was powered by two air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 319.749-cubic-inch-displacement (5.240 liter) Lycoming O-320-B2B horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engines with a compression ratio of 8.5:1. The O-320-B2B is a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine, rated at 160 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The O-320-B2B is 2 feet, 5.56 inches (0.751 meters) long, 2 feet, 8.24 inches (0.819 meters) wide and 1 foot, 10.99 inches (0.584 meters) high. It weighs 278 pounds (126.1 kilograms). The engines turned two-bladed Hartzell constant-speed propellers.

The PA-23-160 had a cruise speed of 150 knots (173 miles per hour/278 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 159 knots (183 miles per hour/295 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,182 meters).

Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, registered VH-IMB, photographed at Broken Hill, New South Wales, 5 November 1978. (Photograph courtesy of Danny Tanner)
Piper PA-23-160 Apache H 23-2039, registered VH-IMB, photographed at Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, 5 November 1978. (Photograph courtesy of Danny Tanner)

N4315Y was re-registered VH-IMB, 22 May 1963, after its arrival in Australia. The airplane remains operational.

Piper PA-23-160 Apache H VH-IMB. (Robert Frola via Wikipedia)
Piper PA-23-160 Apache H 23-2039, VH-IMB, registered to Beltana Aviation Pty. Ltd., photographed at Watts Bridge Airfield, Queensland, Australia, 28 August 2010.  (Robert Frola via Wikipedia)

¹ Thanks to Roger Peperell, Company Historian, Piper Aircraft, Inc., for researching the history of Betty Miller’s Apache.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Robert Michael White (6 July 1924–17 March 2010)

Major Robert Michael White, United States Air Force, with a North American Aviation, Inc., X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 19 November 1959. (Arnold Newman)

Robert Michael White was born 6 July 1924, in Manhattan, New York City. He was the first of two sons of Michael White, a baker, and Helen (Karoline) Butz White, an immigrant from Austria. He attended a vocational high school in The Bronx where he studied to be an electrician. After school and on weekends, White worked as a telegram messenger for Western Union.

White enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces as an Aviation Cadet in November 1942. When he completed flight training in February 1944, White was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He had been trained as a fighter pilot and was sent to England to join the 354th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group, at RAF Steeple Morden in Hertfordshire. He first entered combat during July 1944 flying the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang.

In this photograph, Lieutenant Robert M. White is on the right, with Lieutenant F. Mark Johnson (left) and Major Lee G. Mendenhall (center), all of the 354th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group. Lieutenant Johnson’s fighter, “Sweet Dosey II,” is a North American Aviation P-51D-10-NA Mustang, 44-14089. (Little Friends)
North American Aviation P-51B/C Mustangs of the 354th Fighter Squadron. Lieutenant White’s fighter was coded WR-V. (U.S. Air Force)

On his 52nd combat mission, 23 February 1945, White, call sign “Falcon Green One,” was strafing Neuberg Airfield in Germany, when his North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang 42-103795, WR-V, Dutchess of Manhattan, was hit by ground fire. Too low to bail out, he crash landed in a forest clearing near Boehnfeld. (MACR 12398)

MACR 12398, statement of Falcon Green Two.

White was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was moved around to various POW camps in Germany before being taken to Stalag III-D in Berlin. A railroad train on which he was being moved was strafed by American P-51 fighters. Many passengers were wounded or killed, but White was unhurt. As the Allies advanced, this camp was evacuated and the prisoners were marched 110 miles (177 kilometers) to Stalag VII-A in southern Bavaria. Stalag VII-A was the largest POW camp in Germany, with more than 130,000 Allied prisoners.

“Aerial view of German prison of war camp Stalag 7A near Moosburg, Bavaria, Germany, where thousands of USAAF prisoners of war were imprisoned along with thousands of allied prisoners of various nationalities. Most AF prisoners arrived here from Stalag Luft III, Sagen Germany about 4th Feb 45. This photo was taken 20 days before the camp was liberated by US ground forces. The German guard garrison was housed in the group of long barrack buildings in the right centre of the photo. Parked in the parade ground are 22 white GI trucks which delivered thousands of red cross food parcels to the hungry POW’s. 9th April 1945.” (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 36313)

Stalag VII-A was liberated by Combat Command A, 14th Armored Division, Seventh  Army, on 29 April 1945. White was taken to a relocation center in France, then eventually returned to America aboard a Liberty ship. Lieutenant White was released from active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey, but retained an officer’s commission in the USAAF Reserve.

While attending New York University (NYU), he made regular currency flights at Mitchel Field, flying a North American Aviation AT-6 Texan.

Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

On 7 February 1948, Bob White married Miss Doris M. Allen at the Holy Name Church in New York. They would have four children.

Bob White graduated from NYU in May 1951 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering (BSEE).

During the Korean War, White was recalled to active duty, assigned as a pilot and engineering officer, 514th Troop Carrier Wing, Mitchel AFB, New York. In February 1952 he was sent to the 40th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Johnson Air Base near Tokyo, Japan, flying F-51 Mustangs. As the unit transitioned to jet fighters, Lieutenant White received 50 hours of training in the Lockheed T-33, and was then assigned to fly F-80 Shooting Stars. He applied for a commission as a regular officer in the U.S. Air Force, which was approved, and he was promoted to the rank of captain. After 18 months overseas, he returned to the United States to attend the Squadron Officer’s School at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He finished first in his class.

While at Maxwell, Captain White applied to the Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB in California. He was accepted and in June 1954 began 6 months of training at Edwards. On completion of the school, he was assigned to Edwards under Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, chief of flight test operations. He flew “chase” in the F-86 and F-100, made test flights in the Convair F-102, North American F-86K Sabre, Northrop F-89H Scorpion, the Ryan X-13, and the Republic YF-105A and F-105B Thunderchief.

Republic F-105B-1-RE Thunderchief 54-102. Captain Bob White test flew the YF-105A and F-105B Thunderchief when he was at Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

When the Air Force’s selection to test the North American Aviation X-15, Captain Iven Kincheloe, was killed, White was assigned to the X-15 hypersonic research program.

The X-15 is dropped from the NB-52 at an altitude of 45,000–50,000 feet, at Mach 0.82. (NASA)

Major White flew 16 flights in the X-15 rocket plane over a 32 month period. He was the third pilot to fly the X-15, and he was the first pilot to exceed Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. His maximum speed during the program was Mach 6.04 (4,093 miles per hour/6,589 kilometers per hour), 9 November 1961. On 17 July 1962, he flew the X-15 to an altitude of 314,750 feet (95,936 meters). He set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world record for altitude gain (aircraft launched from a carrier aircraft), of 82,190 meters (269,652 feet),¹ and qualified as an Air Force astronaut.

A. Scott Crossfield, Major Bob White and NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong, at the X-15-2 delivery ceremony 7 February 1961, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB,California. (AFFTC/HO/Jet Pilot Overseas)

On 28 November 1961, President John F. Kennedy presented Major White with the Harmon Trophy.

President John F. Kennedy presents the 1961 Harmon International Trophy for Aviators to A. Scott Crossfield, Joseph A. Walker, and Major Robert M. White. (L-R) Harrison A. Storms; Thomas Scott Crossfield and Paul Scott Crossfield (sons of A. Scott Crossfield); Joseph V. Charyk, Under Secretary of the Air Force; President Kennedy; Joseph A. Walker; Major Alexander P. de Seversky; Major Robert M. White; Colonel Ansel E. Talbert; Colonel Bernt Balchen; William E. Schramek; unidentified man. Fish Room, White House, Washington, D.C.

In 1962, President Kennedy present him with the Collier Trophy.

Major Robert M. White, May 1962. (TPFLTE)
FAI # 9604-1 (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale)
Robert M. White and the X-15 (USAF 071203-F-9999J-130)
FAI Record File Number 9604 (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale)

Major White was featured on the cover of LIFE Magazine, the most widely read magazine in America, 3 August 1962.

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, is greeted by his son after his record-setting flight into space. “Boy, what a ride.” (Lawrence Schiller/LIFE Magazine)

After almost nine years as a test pilot at Edwards, Major White returned to operational duties, first being assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and then in October 1963, to the 22nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, 36th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Bitburg Air Base, Germany, as operations officer. The squadron was equipped with the F-105, which White had tested at Edwards.

After five months at Bitburg, he was given command of the 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, which also flew the F-105.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert M. White with a Republic F-105 Thunderchief, Bitburg AB, Germany.

After his tour in Germany, White returned to the United States, and from August 1965 to 1966, attended the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C. He also attended George Washington University where he earned a master’s degree in business administration. He was then assigned to the Air Force Systems Command at White-Patterson AFB in Ohio as the chief tactical systems officer in the F-111 Systems Program Office.

Republic F-105F-10-RE Thunderchief 60-0464, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli RTAFB. (U.S. Air Force)

In May 1967, Colonel White deployed to Southeast Asia as deputy commander of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai AFB. He flew 70 combat missions in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

Colonel Robert M. White, United States Air Force, Deputy Commander for Operations, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli RTAFB, 1967, with other Republic F-105 Thunderchief pilots. Colonel White is the third from the left. (U.S. Air Force)

For his actions during an attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge near Hanoi, 11 August 1967, Colonel White was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Doumer Bridge, by Keith Ferris, oil on panel, depicts Col. Robert M. White leading the strike against the Paul Doumer Bridge, 11 August 1967. (United States Air Force art collection)
Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Colonel Robert M. White (AFSN: 0-24589A), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-105 Mission Commander and Pilot of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in action 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 anti-aircraft 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.

Action Date: 11-Aug-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Colonel

Company: Deputy Commander for Operations

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

The AFC was presented to Colonel White by President Lyndon B. Johnson at a ceremony held at Cam Ranh Bay, December 1967.

In October 1967, Colonel White was assigned as chief, attack division, Directorate of Combat Operations, Seventh Air Force, at Tan San Nhut Air Base.

In June 1968, Colonel White returned to White-Patterson Air Base AFSC, Aero Systems Division, as director of the F-15 systems program.

F-15 Eagles from the 44th Fighter Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, fly over the Pacific Ocean Aug. 9 during Exercise Valiant Shield. During the exercise, Air Force aircraft and personnel will participate in integrated joint training with Navy and Coast Guard forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Miranda Moorer)

In August 1970, Colonel White returned to Edwards Air Force Base where he took command of the Air Force Flight Test Center.

In October 1971, he attended the U.S. Navy parachute test pilot school. In November 1972, Brigadier General White took command of the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFROTC) at Maxwell AFB.

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

On 12 February 1975, White was promoted to the rank of major general, with his date of rank retroactive to 1 July 1972. The following month, he took command of the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force, based at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

In 1980, Major General White and his wife, Doris, divorced. She returned to the United States.

In December 1980, White married his second wife, Ms. Christa Katherina Kasper (née  ScChrista Katherina Shmenger) (b. 3 Dec. ’42, Pirmasens, Germany. Daughter: Judith Kasper)

In 1981, Major General White retired from the U.S. Air Force after 39 years of service. During his military career, he had been awarded the Air Force Cross, the Distinguished Service medal with oak leaf cluster (two awards); the Silver Star with three oak leaf clusters (four awards); the Legion of Merit with four oak leaf clusters (five awards); the Bronze Star; and the Air Medal with sixteen oak leaf clusters (seventeen awards). He wore the wings of a command pilot astronaut.

He had also been awarded the Harmon and Collier Trophies, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

At Edwards Air Force Base, a street is named Bob White Drive in his honor.

In 2006, White was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Mrs. Christa White died 9 January 2007.

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 7 Feb 1961. (NASA) Flight 33. Mach 3.50, 78,150′, last XLR-11 flight. major White is wearing a David Clark Company MC-2 full-pressure suit with an MA-3 helmet.
28 Nov 1961 JFKWHP-KN-C19570
18 July 1962 JFKWHP-AR7365-D
18 July 1962 JFKWHP-AR7365-D
NASM-SI-92-13598

Major General Robert Michael White, United States Air Force (Retired), died at 11:55p.m., 17 March 2010 at an assisted living facility in Orlando, Florida. His remains were interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Tom Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff, described  General White as “the eternally correct and reserved Air Force blue suiter.” In The Right Stuff he wrote:

“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. He was slender, black-haired, handsome, intelligent—even cultivated, if the truth were known. And he was terribly serious.”

“White had not unbent as much as one inch for the occasion. You could see them straining to manufacture on of those ‘personality profiles’ about White, and all he would give them was the Blue Suit and a straight arrow. That was Bob White.”

RMW Arlington (Anne Cady)

Recommended: Higher and Faster: Memoir of a Pioneering Air Force Test Pilot, by Robert M. White and Jack L. Summers. McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina, 2010

¹ FAI Record File Number 9604

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes