Alvin White, Supersonic Test Pilot, Dies

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Alvin White, who was Scott Crossfield's boss at North American during the heyday of supersonic flight testing, died over the weekend. He was 88. "Al assigned Scott to the X-15 while Al took the less flashy XB-70, which he then proceeded to fly at Mach 3 for hours on end," Rick Durden, who knew both men, told AVweb in an e-mail. "He was one of the great test pilots ... he took the F-100 and F-107 to the edges of their performance envelopes. He survived that time of unprecedented exploration of extremely high speeds and altitudes within the atmosphere, when airframes and engines were developed as fast as engineers could put ideas to paper and metal could be bent to fit." With the XB-70, White helped to design instrumentation that could be used at over 70,000 feet and Mach 3, which is in use to this day, Durden said. White was the pilot during a test flight when the XB-70 was destroyed, Durden wrote. "Al was in the left seat [and] was directed to join and lead a formation of GE-powered jets for publicity photos. The F-104 off his right wing somehow tapped the top of the left elevator of its T-tail on the leading edge of the XB-70's right wing. The F-104 cartwheeled across the top of the XB-70, removing one and a half of its vertical tails. The XB-70 flew for about 12 seconds before a wing dropped. When Al, still not aware that his airplane had been hit (the radio frequency became so congested no one could understand anything) applied aileron and rudder to pick up the wing, the airplane snap-rolled, immediately becoming uncontrollable. Al was able to fight the G forces and activate the capsule ejection system (the system required each pilot individually actuate his unit) and he got out. The capsule malfunctioned and he was severely injured in the landing. His copilot did not get out. ... Al never flew the XB-70 again, however, it is his name that is printed on the top of the list of the names under the left cockpit window on the sole remaining XB-70, now in the Air Force Museum. ... Al was one of the quiet ones. There were giants in aeronautics during the development of the hundred series fighters. So few of them are left." There will be a memorial service in Tucson today.