Secret Astronauts
William J. "Pete" Knight
Credit: US Air Force Courtesy

CSA Bids Farewell to Senator William J."Pete" Knight

May 17, 2004
California Space Authority

"CSA bids a fond farewell to State Senator William J. 'Pete' Knight, a tremendous pioneer and friend of California aerospace enterprise," said Andrea Seastrand, Executive Director of CSA. "The space enterprise community could always count on Pete's support in Sacramento." Pete passed away May 7, 2004.

From the May 13th memorial service program held in Lancaster, CA:

Fighter pilot, test pilot, astronaut, and legislator, William J. "Pete" Knight still holds the world's speed record for winged powered flight.

Born In Noblesvllle, Indiana in 1929, he earned his commission and pilot wings through the Aviation Cadet Program in 1953. AS a Second lieutenant, Knight won the Allison Trophy for his racing performance while flying the for Scorpion in the Dayton National Air Show of 1954. In 1956, he attended the Air Force Institute of Technology and graduated two years later with a degree In aeronautical engineering. He continued his schooling by next attending the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California.

Remaining at Edwards AFB, Knight was involved in several flight test programs, including advanced testing of the F-loo Super Sabre. In 1960, he was one of five Air Force test pilots selected for the X-20 Dyna Soar program - the technologies test project which led to the Space Shuttle development After cancellation of the X-2o program, Knight moved to the ongoing X-15 test program. In October 1967, he piloted the X-15A-2 to the speed of Mach 6.7. During this flight, the aircraft surface temperature exceeded 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in serious structural problems. Despite these problems, he successfully maneuvered the X-15 to a flawless landing.

[Pictured at left: X-15A-2 with test pilot, "Pete" Knight. NASA photo ECN-1025. Date 1965. NASA Dryden Flight Research Center Photo Collection -

Knight next saw combat in Southeast Asia flying F-loos at Phan Rang AB where he flew 253 combat missions. After his Vietnam tour, he was assigned to Wright-patterson AFB, Ohio, where he served as the Test Director for evaluation and testing of the F-15 Eagle.

Following graduation from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in 1973, Knight returned to Wright-patterson AFB as the F-4 System Program Office (SP0) Director. As a result of reorganization within the Aeronautical Systems Division, he became Director of the Fighter Attach SPO responsible for the development and production of several Air Force fighter aircraft. In 1979, he returned to Edwards AFB as the Air Force Flight Center Vice-commander where he served until retirement in 1982.

During his distinguished career, Colonel Knight accumulated more than 7,000 flying hours In over loo different military and civilian aircraft.

Not satisfied with a quiet retirement, he was elected to the Palmdale City Council in 1984, then was the first popularly elected Mayor in 1988 where he served until 1992. He was then elected to the California State Assembly and served years. In 1996, he was elected to the California State Senate, where he served as Senator for the 17th senate District until the time of his passing.

During his tenure in the Senate, Knight was best recognized as the author and defender of Proposition 22, which defined marriage in California as being between one man and one woman. A strong conservative, Knight was known for his pro-family, pro-job creation, and anti-tax voting record. Senator Knight was a tireless advocate for Veterans and a leading voice In California's ongoing military base retention efforts In 2002, he was honored to have a high school named after him by the local high school district in the Antelope Valley.

Maj. William "Pete" Knight and X-15A-2 (U.S. Air Force photo) 
On Oct. 3, 1967, Maj. William "Pete" Knight flew the modified X-15A-2 to its maximum speed of Mach 6.7 or 4,520 mph, a speed which remains the fastest anyone has ever flown an aircraft. 
Air Force pilot William J. "Pete" Knight is seen here in front of the X-15A-2 aircraft (56-6671). Pete Knight made 16 flights in the X-15, and set the world unofficial speed record for fixed wing aircraft, 4,520 mph (mach 6.7), in the X-15A-2. He also made one flight above 50 miles, qualifying him for astronaut wings. (NASA Photo)

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