Robert M. White
1963 Mendel Medal Recipient
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 53rd 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.
Proceedings of the X-15 First Flight 30th Anniversary Celebration