Arthur ‘Kit’ Murray dies at 92; pilot set Bell X-1A altitude record

Retired Col. Arthur “Kit” Murray, an experimental test pilot who set an altitude record in 1954 when he piloted a Bell X-1A at 90,000 feet at nearly twice the speed of sound, has died. He was 92.

Murray died July 25 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at a nursing home in West, Texas, his family announced.

A decorated pilot during World War II, Murray received the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving the X-1A rocket plane — stabilizing and safely landing it — after it tumbled out of control for 22,000 feet from the record height over what is now NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.

During the flight, Murray later said, the sky turned purplish-black, and he could see all the way from Northern California to the Baja California peninsula in Mexico.

Murray was born Dec. 26, 1918, in Cresson, Pa. He joined the U.S. Army in 1939 and served in the cavalry until he volunteered for flight training the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941.

He received the Air Medal with eight oak leaf clusters for his service as a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter pilot based in North Africa.

After a year in combat, he became a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt flight instructor in Hartford, Conn. He was a maintenance flight test pilot after being sent by chance to a school for test pilots.

He was next sent to Muroc Army Air Field — which became Edwards Air Force Base — where Chuck Yeager would break the sound barrier.

Murray tested many aircraft and made 14 flights in the Bell X-1A alone. After six years as a test pilot in California, Murray was based in Paris for a year.

He then was named the U.S. Air Force manager of the X-15 program at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, where Neil Armstrong, who would be the first man to walk on the moon, was one of his test pilots.

In 1961, Murray retired from the Air Force and worked with Boeing in Seattle and Florida, before moving to Texas to work for Bell Helicopter.

Murray worked for more than 10 years in code enforcement for the city of Dallas, a job he held until he retired in 1988.

He is survived by his wife, Ann; five sons, a daughter and three stepdaughters; 19 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.