William J. Knight

William J. Knight

Infobox Astronaut

name =William J. "Pete" Knight
type =USAF Astronaut
nationality =American
status =Deceased
date_birth =November 18 1929
date_death = Death date and age|2004|5|8|1929|11|18
place_birth =
place_death =
occupation =Test Pilot
rank =
selection =1960 Dyna-Soar Group
time =
mission =X-15 Flight 190
insignia =

William J. "Pete" Knight (November 18 1929 - May 8 2004) was a U.S. politician, combat pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. Knight holds the world's speed record for flight in a winged, powered aircraft.

Air Force career

Knight joined the United States Air Force in 1951. While only a Second Lieutenant, he flew an F-89 at the National Air Show in 1954 and won the Allison Jet Trophy.

Starting in 1958, Knight served as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base. He was a project test pilot for the F-100, F-101 Voodoo, F-104 Starfighter and later, T-38 and F-5 test programs. In 1960, he was one of six test pilots selected to fly the X-20 Dyna-Soar, which was slated to become the first winged orbital space vehicle capable of lifting reentries and conventional landings. After the X-20 program was canceled in 1963, he completed the astronaut training curriculum at Edwards AFB and was selected to fly the North American X-15.

He had more than his share of eventful flights in the X-15. While climbing through 107,000 feet at Mach 4.17 on June 29 1967, he suffered a total electrical failure and all onboard systems shutdown. After arching over at 173,000 feet, he calmly set up a visual approach and, resorting to old-fashioned "seat-of-the-pants" flying, he glided down to a safe emergency landing at Mud Lake, Nevada. For his remarkable feat of airmanship that day, he earned a Distinguished Flying Cross.

On October 3 1967, Knight set a world aircraft speed record for manned aircraft by piloting the X-15A-2 to 4,520 miles per hour or 6,437 km/h (Mach 6.7) — a record that still stands today. During 16 flights in the aircraft, Knight also became one of only five pilots to earn their astronaut's wings by flying an airplane in space, reaching an altitude of 280,500 feet.

After nearly ten years of test flying at Edwards AFB, he went to Southeast Asia in 1968 where he completed a total of 253 combat sorties in the F-100. Following his combat tour, he served as test director during development of the F-15 Eagle at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. He also was the Program Director for the International Fighter (F-5) Program at Wright-Patterson. In 1979, he returned to Edwards AFB, and served as a test pilot for the F-16 Fighting Falcon. After 32 years of service and more than 6,000 hours in the cockpits of more than 100 different aircraft, he retired from the USAF as a Colonel in 1982.

In honor of his achievements, Knight was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor with the inaugural class of 1990. Also, the Scaled Composites White Knight spacecraft launch plane was named after Knight and fellow X-15 pilot Robert White.

Political career

In 1984, he was elected to the city council of Palmdale, California, and four years later became the city's first elected mayor. In 1992, he was elected to serve in the California State Assembly representing the 36th District. He served in the State Senate representing the 17th District from 1996 until his death on May 8 2004. During his term in the Senate, Knight gained statewide attention as the author of Proposition 22, aka the "Knight Initiative," whose entire text stated, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." Knight's middle son, David Knight, who is gay, married his partner in San Francisco; the marriage was later nullified by the California Supreme Court in March 2004. [ [http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/03/10/MNGCR5HRLD1.DTL Son of gay marriage foe weds in San Francisco / Sen. Knight wrote state law banning same-sex unions ] ] Knight's youngest son, Steve Knight, currently the Mayor Pro Tempore of the City of Palmdale, is the 2008 Republican nominee for the 36th Assembly District, a seat currently held by Sharon Runner, and previously held by his father. [http://www.votesmart.org/bio.php?can_id=71098]


* [http://www.scvtv.com/html/sg042504-nm.html "Pete Knight's Final Television Interview"] (30 min., free, taped 4-1-2004)

chool in his name

In the city of Palmdale, Pete Knight High School was opened in his memory. The school began its first year in the school year of 2003-2004 and will celebrate its first graduating class in 2007.


*Thompson, Milton O. (1992) "At The Edge Of Space: The X-15 Flight Program", Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London. ISBN 1-56098-107-5

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