Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Presenting the Harmon Trophy to Maj. William J. Knight, USAF

December 03, 1968

Major Knight and family, Secretary Brown, Admiral Rosendahl, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Seventy years ago, if an American President had announced that this month three men would take a trip around the moon, he would have been locked up. Only people like Jules Verne were allowed to talk such foolishness.

The scientific miracles of the 20th century have taught men not to retreat from the impossible, but to challenge it.

The man we are honoring here today in the Cabinet Room has made a career of challenging the impossible. Since 1965, Major William Knight has been a pilot in this Nation's vital X-15 program.

His workday is spent on the fringes of space. He has flown an aircraft faster than any other man alive--more than 4,500 miles per hour.

The X-15 program is a joint venture of NASA and the Air Force. It joins aviation with space flight; aeronautics with astronautics.

Major Knight is himself a symbol of that union, for he holds both a command pilot's wings and astronaut's wings--which he won for flying more than 50 miles above the earth.

The men who fly the X-15 are America's finest. They do not have the security of knowing that their equipment has gone through unmanned flight tests. Every time an X-15 takes to the air, a man is at the controls.

What we learn from the X-15 program will enable us to improve on all our aircraft. The information gained from Major Knight's "flying laboratory" will make the airplanes of the future safer, faster, and more efficient.

Major Knight's bravery and his skill have been tested time and again. Earlier this year, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for piloting his rocket aircraft to a safe landing after a complete engine and power failure at 107,000 feet--more than 20 miles up.

So I take great pleasure--in behalf of a grateful Nation--in awarding the Harmon Trophy to this courageous man.

I pay tribute to his loving family who inspires him to carry on these great adventures in behalf of a free people.

Note: The President spoke at 11:50 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. In his opening words he also referred to Harold Brown, Secretary of the Air Force, and Vice Adm. Charles E. Rosendahl, USN Ret., twice winner of the Harmon Aeronaut's Trophy and one of the three Harmon Trustees. Major Knight's wife and two sons attended the ceremony.

Major Knight was awarded the 1968 Harmon International Aviator's Trophy for piloting an X-15A-2 rocket plane on several flights at about 5 times the speed of sound. The flights yielded basic research data applicable to the design of future hypersonic passenger aircraft and contributed significantly to U.S.. aeronautical research programs.

The Harmon International Aviation Trophies, named for the late Col. Clifford B. Harmon, pioneer American aviator, are awarded by the Clifford B. Harmon Trust and presented annually to the world's outstanding aviators for exceptional feats of individual piloting skill.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Presenting the Harmon Trophy to Maj. William J. Knight, USAF Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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