Frank K. "Pete" Everest, Jr. is one of an elite group of aerospace pioneers who led the way in establishing the United States Air Force (USAF). Included among his many accolades was the title "Fastest Man Alive," as Everest was called after exceeding 1,900 mph in July 1956 with the Bell X-2 rocket-powered aircraft. His flying career began when he acquired his private pilot's license in February 1941, while studying engineering at West Virginia University. Accepted into the Aviation Cadet program, he earned his commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Force in July 1942 and was assigned to the 314th Fighter Squadron.
His unit, equipped with the P-40 Warhawk, was assigned to North Africa in January 1943. During this tour, he flew 96 combat missions over Africa, Sicily, and Italy. On one mission in March 1943, Everest downed two German Junkers transports and seriously damaged a third while the left stabilizer of his P-40 was blown off by an Me-109. He returned home in May 1944 and following fighter training instructor duties at Venice, Florida, Everest requested combat duty and was assigned to the China-Burma-India Theater. He again flew P-40s from November 1944 until February 1945 when he assumed command of the 29th Fighter Squadron based in Chihkiang, China.
In May 1945, while on a strafing mission against Japanese boats on the Yangtze River, Everest's P-51 Mustang was crippled by ground fire. He was captured and remained a Japanese prisoner until August 1945. After the war, he was assigned to Wright Field, Ohio, as a test pilot. During his stay in Ohio and later as chief Air Force test pilot and head of the Flight Test Operations Division at Edwards AFB, California, he flew nearly every aircraft brought into the inventory.
On 29 October 1953, he established a world speed record of 755.149 mph in a YF-100, but it would be three more years before his most notable record would be established. His 10 years as a test pilot had been rewarding but were characterized by an ever-present threat of danger. For example, the canopy of his X-1 failed during a 1951 flight to 65,000 feet--a T-1 pressure suit saved his life. Following an assignment to Germany, he went on to command numerous units both abroad and at home and was promoted to brigadier general on 1 November 1965. After retiring from the USAF in 1973, Everest became Chief Test Pilot for Sikorsky Aircraft.
At 0645 on 23 July 1956, the B-50 crew was called to board the aircraft and "Pete" Everest went forward to the bombardier's position for takeoff. Scheduled to leave Edwards following this flight, he was anxious to expand the X-2 speed/altitude envelope to a point approaching Mach 3. At 0745, Everest and his Bell X-2 aircraft were dropped free at 30,000 feet. With full power applied, the rocket chambers hurled plane and pilot into the quiet of supersonic flight at 50,000 feet. Following a planned level-off at 60,000 feet, Everest continued accelerating until reaching a speed of over 1,900 mph (Mach 2.9) and earning his title "The Fastest Man Alive." He pushed the envelope to new dimensions and completed another step in man's continuing quest to link the dreams of technology to the realities of flight.