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William John "Pete" Knight (November 18, 1929 – May 7, 2004) (Col, USAF) was an American aeronautical engineer, politician, Vietnam War combat pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He was one of twelve pilots who flew the North American X-15, an experimental spaceplane jointly operated by the U.S. Air Force and NASA. He was also selected for participation in the X-20 Dyna-Soar program.

William J. Knight
Member of the California Senate
from the 17th district
In office
December 2, 1996 – May 7, 2004
Preceded byDon Rogers
Succeeded byGeorge Runner
Member of the California State Assembly
from the 36th district
In office
December 7, 1992 - November 30, 1996
Preceded byTom McClintock
Succeeded byGeorge Runner
Personal details
William John Knight

(1929-11-18)November 18, 1929
Noblesville, Indiana, U.S.
DiedMay 7, 2004(2004-05-07) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
ChildrenSteve Knight, 2 other
Other namesPete Knight
Alma materButler University
Purdue University
Air Force Institute of Technology, B.S. 1958
OccupationTest pilot
Space career
USAF Astronaut
Rank Colonel, USAF
Selection1960 Dyna-Soar Group 1
MissionsX-15 Flight 190
X-15 Flight 188

On October 3, 1967, Knight piloted X-15 Flight 188, the program's fastest flight. Flying at a maximum Mach of 6.7 and a maximum speed of 4,520 mph (7,274 km/h), he set a speed record for flight in a winged, powered aircraft.[1] The flight was made in the X-15A-2, the second of three planes in the X-15 fleet.

Two weeks later on October 17, Knight flew X-15 Flight 190, reaching a maximum altitude above 50 miles. This qualified him as an astronaut according to the United States definition of the boundary of space. However, this altitude did not surpass the Kármán line, the internationally accepted boundary of 100 kilometers (62 miles). It was the last successful flight of the X-15-3, the fleet's third plane. On November 15, X-15 Flight 191 ended in disaster, killing pilot Michael Adams and destroying the X-15-3.

Early life and education

Knight was born November 18, 1929, in Noblesville, Indiana, to parents William T. Knight (1906–1968) and Mary Emma Knight (1909–1959). Following high school, Knight attended Butler University and Purdue University. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology in 1958.


Knight was married to Helena Stone and they had three sons, Steve, Peter, and David. Helena predeceased Knight. Knight remarried and at his death in 2004 he was survived by his widow Gail, a brother, three sons, four stepchildren and 15 grandchildren.

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, following his graduation from both U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology and the Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School (Class 58C), Knight served as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He was a project test pilot for the F-100 Super Sabre, F-101 Voodoo, F-104 Starfighter and later, T-38 Talon and F-5 Freedom Fighter 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 through the Aerospace Research Pilot School (Class 63A) 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 (33,000 m) at Mach 4.17 on June 29, 1967, he suffered a total electrical failure and all onboard systems shut down. After reaching a maximum altitude of 173,000 feet (53,000 m), 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.[2] For his remarkable feat of airmanship that day, he earned a Distinguished Flying Cross.

Maj. William Pete Knight with the X-15
Maj. William "Pete" Knight with the X-15

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 (7,274 km/h) (Mach 6.70),[3][4] a record that still stands today. During 16 flights in the aircraft, Knight also became one of only five pilots to earn their Astronaut Wings by flying an airplane in space, reaching an altitude of 280,500 feet (85,500 m).

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 missions in the F-100 during the Vietnam War. 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 U.S. Air Force as a colonel in 1982.

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 7, 2004. Knight's youngest son, Steve Knight served as assemblyman for the 36th Assembly District from 2008 to 2012, the seat previously held by his father.

Proposition 22

During his term in the Senate, Knight gained statewide attention in 2000 as the author of Proposition 22, a.k.a. the "Knight Initiative", the purpose of which was to ban same-sex marriage: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." The proposition passed with 61.4% approval and 38.6% against. On March 9, 2004, Knight's son, David Knight, who is gay, married his partner during the period when San Francisco performed same-sex marriages in defiance of state law. These marriages were later nullified by the California Supreme Court in 2004.[5] The Court later found Proposition 22 to be unconstitutional in In re Marriage Cases (2008).[6]

In addition to his gay son, Knight also had a younger brother who died of AIDS-related complications in 1995 at age 60. Of his younger brother, Knight would only say, "We never talked about it."[7]


Awards and honors

In the city of Palmdale, Pete Knight High School was opened in his memory.[citation needed] The school began its first year in the school year of 2003–2004 and celebrated its first graduating class in 2007.


  1. "Fastest Speed in a Non-Spacecraft Aircraft". Guinness World Records. Guinness World Records Limited. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  2. Mud Lake, Nye County, Nevada, 37°52′10″N 117°04′17″W. Located at the northern edge of the Tonopah Test Range, this is the southernmost Mud Lake of several dry lakes bearing the same name in Nevada.
  3. Evans, Michelle (2013). "The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings Into Space-Flight Log" (PDF). Mach 25 Media. p. 51.
  4. Jenkins, Dennis R. (June 2000). "Hypersonics Before the Shuttle: a Concise History of the X-15 Research Airplane" (PDF). Monographs in Aerospace History (18). NASA. p. 121. Appendix 9, X-15 Program Flight Log.
  5. "Son of gay marriage foe weds in San Francisco / Sen. Knight wrote state law banning same-sex unions". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  6. Garofoli, Joe; Wildermuth, John; Bulwa, Demian (August 5, 2010). "Mormons urged to back ban on same-sex marriage". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  7. Hill-Holtzman, Nancy (11 September 1996). "Foe of Gay Marriages Says His Son Is Homosexual". Los Angeles Times.
  8. "National Aviation Hall of fame: Our Enshrinees". National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 10, 2011.
  9. Knight inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor Archived 2014-05-27 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Kaplan, Tracey (September 23, 1990). "Ground-Level Monuments Honor Heroes of the Air". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. p. 840 via Newspapers.com.
  11. Knight inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame


Political offices
Preceded by
Cathie Wright
California State Assemblyman
36th District
December 7, 1992 – November 30, 1996
Succeeded by
George Runner
Preceded by
Don Rogers
California State Senator
17th District
December 2, 1996 – May 7, 2004

На других языках

- [en] William J. Knight

[fr] William Joseph Knight

William Joseph Knight dit Pete est un pilote américain de X-15 né le 18 novembre 1929 et décédé le 8 mai 2004 (à 74 ans).

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