William "Pete" Knight

Image used with permission from the National Aviation Hall of Fame

William "Pete" Knight

Colonel William J. “Pete” Knight retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1982 after serving 32 distinguished years as a pilot . Born in Noblesville, Indiana on November 18, 1929, Knight attended Butler and Purdue Universities receiving his commission through the aviation cadet program. Within a year of earning his wings, Knight was an experienced F-89 “Scorpion” pilot with the Air Defense Command. He won the Allison Jet Trophy Race in the F-89 at the 1954 National Air Show in Dayton, Ohio. He went on to graduate from the Experimental Flight Test Pilot School in 1958 and the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in 1964.

Over the next several years, Knight conducted performance, stability, refueling and weapons test work on a variety of aircraft including the F-100, F-101, F-104 and the F-5. Knight was also one of six pilots selected for the X-20 Dyna-Soar project which was the forerunner of the space shuttle vehicle. Colonel Knight’s next assignment let him fly in the high speed and altitude X-15 program. In 1967, Knight flew the X-15 to a record speed of 4,520 MPH (Mach 6.7) and later received astronaut wings for a record flight that reached an altitude of 280,000 feet.

President Lyndon Johnson presented Knight with the Harmon International Aviator’s Trophy in 1969 for his record speed flight. That same year he received the Octave Chanute Award, an honor that the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences presented annually. Knight was made a member of the Air Force Systems Command Aerospace Primus Club in 1968 for his X-15 flight test. In addition, the Air Force Association awarded Knight its “Citation of Honor.”

Following the termination of the X-15 program, Pete Knight served in Vietnam flying the F-100 Super Sabre over 250 missions. Upon his return. Knight became Test Director for the F-15 Eagle System Program Office at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. He later served as Director of the Fighter Attack System Program Office managing aircraft weapons systems on the F-5E and F-4 fighters. Col. Knight concluded his military career as the Vice Commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

His decorations included the Legion of Merit with one oak leaf cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, and the Air Medal with 10 oak leaf clusters. After his military retirement, Knight stayed active working as a technical advisor for the television program ‘Call to Glory;’ as a Vice President in Charge of Fighter Enhancement Programs for Eidetics International; as the mayor of Palmdale, California; and, as a California state Senator.

William P. Knight died in 2004.

For his extraordinary achievement and service to aviation, test flight, Indiana, the nation and the world, and his service to the country, William P. Knight is inducted into the Indiana Aviation Hall of Fame the 8th day of July, 2020.