Russell M. “Rusty” Roth entered aviation history on Dec. 9, 1952, over Edwards Air Force Base, flying Republic Aviation Corp.’s XF-91 Thunderceptor rocket-boosted jet fighter prototype, making it the first combat-type airplane to exceed the speed of sound while flying straight and level.
A World War II P-38 fighter pilot, Roth flew 132 combat missions in the South Pacific before arriving at Edwards. As the assistant chief of the flight development branch, he flight-tested the XB-43 and F-86 as well as the Northrop Flying Wing N9M.
He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School Class 1949-D at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and then returned to Edwards, where he piloted the first flights of the YF-84J, YF-105A and YF-105B.
Roth joined Republic’s flight test team in 1952 and became the company’s chief test pilot. While flying for Republic at Edwards, he tested the Thunderceptor and the F-84. He flew the first flights of the YRF-84J on May 7, 1954, and the F-105A, exceeding the speed of sound, on Oct. 22, 1955.
A founder of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and author of many aviation articles, Roth was honored with the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters. He studied mechanical engineering at Kansas State College.
Roth died Nov. 3, 1972, in Lancaster.
We honor you, Russell Roth.