Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bob White 1924-2010

He was the eternally correct and reserved Air Force pilot. He didn’t drink. He exercised like a college athlete in training. He was religious. 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. He was not a beer-call fighter jock.” - Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff.

Bob White, the 5th American in space but the first in the world to get up there in a winged craft - and more importantly, to fly it back down through the atmosphere and land on a runway, has died aged 85. He was also the first pilot to exceed Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6.



Robert Michael White was born in New York City on July 6, 1924, and entered military service in 1942. He flew more than 50 fighter missions during World War II before he was shot down over Germany in February 1945 and taken prisoner.

After leaving military service in December 1945, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from New York University. Re-called during the Korean War, he served with a fighter squadron based in Japan, and in the mid-1950s he was assigned to Edwards.

Returning to combat in the Vietnam War, he flew 70 missions over North Vietnam and received the Air Force Cross, the service’s highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor, for leading an August 1967 attack on an important railway and highway bridge in the Hanoi area. He retired from military service in 1981 as a major general.

Al Hallonquist's tribute site with good links :

As Allavie rolls the B-52 onto the heading of 222 degrees, at the launch speed of 0.82 Mach, I start the first-stage ignition. Think of this as a pilot light on a gas stove; there is no real power yet because it’s "idling." Joe Walker calls the countdown: "Four…three…two…one…LAUNCH!"

I flick the "Drop" toggle switch. The X-15 falls away and I shove the throttle forward. The acceleration is tremendous, and as I pitch up in a 40-degree climb, the G-forces build. X-15 pilot Bill Dana was fond of saying that because of the 4 Gs against the chest endured during powered flight, the X-15 is the only aircraft in which he was glad when the engine quit.

The plan called for an 80-second burn to reach 282,000 feet and Mach 5.15. But this engine performed very well, and by topping off the LOX, I was able to burn the engine for an extra two seconds, which allowed me to accelerate to Mach 5.45 and peak at 314,750 feet, becoming the first person to fly an aircraft above 300,000 feet and also the first pilot to fly a winged vehicle into space.

The X-15 now starts to decelerate... at this (airless - LT) altitude my standard controls are ineffective, so the aircraft is now using jets of hydrogen peroxide to control yaw, pitch, and roll, keeping the nose on the proper heading.

When re-entry begins, the "eyeballs out" negative G forces start to build. I place my helmet against the reverse headrest, which allows my helmet to settle forward slightly and stay in place as the aircraft decelerates and the pressures on my body increase. Without this headrest, the negative G forces would push my head so far forward I could lose sight of the control panel.

The X-15 soon encounters enough atmosphere to regain the use of the aerodynamic control surfaces. Coming out almost directly over Edwards Air Force Base, we are still at Mach 3-plus and around 75,000 feet, much faster and higher than previous X-15 flights. Overflying the landing site, I make one circle and roll out on heading, having lost enough altitude to be right on target for the lakebed runway. The Gs are so great that after the flight I find a huge patch of burst capillaries all over my right shoulder and chest .


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of the passing of a true hero.

I've never read The Right Stuff, although together with everything Tom Wolfe has ever written, it is on my hit list of books to read at some time.

In my uneducated uninformed opinion, Tom Wolfe must be one of, if not the, greatest living American writer.

I buy lots of books, many of which I never read past the first few chapters. But every Tom Wolfe book I've started reading, I've been unable to put down.

There is something about his style of writing and perhaps the way he approaches his subject matter that just completely captures my attention.

In an odd way, I think he is like the Dickens or the Steinbeck of our age.

I believe that in a few decades time, Tom Wolfe will either be revered as a giant of English and American literature, or Western civilisation will no longer exist.

Thud said...

Truly outstanding.

Anonymous said...

The Right Stuff is IMHO his best book. I like the tale of his writing it, too. He wanted to write about the astronauts, went to see Chuck Yeager for some background, and was so impressed by him that he transformed the book, with Yeager's story topping and tailing the Mercury space programme.