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Mon, Oct 04, 2004

RIP: Frank Kendall Everest, Jr.

Once The Fastest Man On (Or Above) Earth

This week has seen the changing of the guard among rocket plane pilots. Mike Melvill flew SpaceShipOne on the first of two qualifying flights for the $10 million Ansari X-Prize -- and Brigadier General "Pete" Everest has passed away. Everest was a legend; a fighter ace, a famous test pilot, and, on at least two occasions, "The Fastest Man Alive."

Frank Kendall Everest Jr. was born in Fairmont (WV) in 1920.  After college, he joined the US Army Air Corps Air Cadet Program just before Pearl Harbor. Commissioned in July, 1942, he flew P-40 fighters in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, shooting down two German planes. After an assignment as an instructor, he commanded the 17th Fighter Squadron  (5th Fighter Group) in China. He added four Japanese kills to his total, now flying the P-51, but was shot down in May 1945 and taken prisoner till the war's end.

After the war, he took up test flight, first at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio and later at Edwards AFB in the California desert. In his incredible career as a test pilot he flew the X-1, X-1A, X-1B, X-2, X-3, X-4 and X-5, and took part in the testing of numerous experimental and prototype fighters and bombers.

He set official and unofficial speed and altitude world records in everything from the XS-1 to the YF-100 to the X-2. In the YF-100 he once held an official world absolute speed record of 755 miles per hour, set mere feet above the ground, but in those days of extremely rapid aviation development no record stood for long. His 1,957 mph, Mach 2.87 flight in the Bell X-2 in 1956 gave him the unofficial title, "Fastest Man Alive," which became the title of his popular 1958 book. He was the only X-2 pilot to live to retire; Iven Kincheloe died in an F-104 accident, and the other two pilots, Bell Aircraft test pilot Skip Ziegler and Air Force Captain Mel Apt, died in X-2 mishaps.

After 1957, Everest's stint as a test pilot ended, to the great relief of his wife Avis (who passed away in 2003), and he served in a variety of important command and staff assignments until retiring from the Air Force in 1973 in the grade of Brigadier General. He was a frequent guest at aviation events, a recipient of scores of honors, awards, and trophies, and proud of his place in aviation history.



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