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World's Fastest Man Remembered
05.10.04
 
Pilot Pete Knight in front of X-15 William J. "Pete" Knight, who became the world's fastest man on Oct. 3, 1967, while flying the X-15, died of cancer on May 7.

Image left: William J. "Pete" Knight with the X-15. USAF photo

Knight, then an Air Force major who was part of an elite cadre of hypersonic X-15 pilots, made frontier-busting flights setting aeronautical records that stood unchallenged for years. His record-breaking Mach 6.7 (nearly seven times the speed of sound) flight remains the highest speed ever attained by a manned aircraft.

Knight, along with several other X-15 pilots, earned astronaut wings while flying the rocket-powered plane.

Knight embodied the "right stuff" that novelist Tom Wolfe wrote of in describing the fearless makeup of early test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert. The X-15 program, managed by NASA, included service pilots.