William J. Knight
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Pete Knight grew up in Noblesville, Indiana, and enlisted in the USAF in 1951. After receiving his commission through the aviation cadet program, he completed pilot training in 1953. Flying an F-89D for the 438th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, he won the prestigious Allison Jet Trophy Race in September of 1954. After completing his undergraduate education with a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1958, he attended the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB where he graduated later that same year. He remained at Edwards where he served as project test pilot on the F-100, F-101, F-104 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 the new USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards in 1964 and was selected to fly the X-15.

He had more than his share of eventful flights in the airplane. 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. Months later, on October 3, 1967, he accomplished a major milestone, as he piloted the modified X-15A-2 to a speed of 4,520 mph (Mach 6.7)-a speed which remains, to this day, the highest ever attained in an airplane. During 16 flights in the rocketplane, Knight also became one of only five pilots to earn astronaut's wings by flying an airplane in space when he climbed to 280,500 feet on October 17, 1967. 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 for the F-15 System Program Office at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. In this capacity, he became the tenth pilot to fly the F-15 Eagle and completed some of the initial evaluations of the fighter. Following a subsequent assignment as Director of the Fighter Attack System Program Office, he returned to Edwards AFB as vice commander of the AFFTC in 1979. During this, his final active duty assignment, he remained an active test pilot in the F-16 Combined Test Force. 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 in 1982. 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 and, since 1996, he has continued to serve as a state senator representing California's 17th Senate District.

Among his many honors, Colonel Knight has been awarded the Legion of Merit with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Medal with ten Oak Leaf Clusters, the Harmon International Trophy, the Octave Chanute Award, and the Air Force Association Citation of Honor. He has been inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame (1988), the Aerospace Walk of Honor (1990), and the International Space Hall of Fame (1998).

October 1999
Written by Air Force Flight Test Center Chief Historian James Young