Robert “Bob” Aitken Rushworth was born on October 9, 1924, in Madison, Maine and graduated from Madison Memorial High School in 1942. He graduated from Hebron Academy in Hebron, Maine in 1943. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maine in 1951 and another B.S. degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB) in 1954. In 1967 he graduated from the National War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.
In June 1943, Rushworth enlisted in the Army and entered the aviation cadet program. He was commissioned as second lieutenant and received his pilot wings in September 1944. In February 1945, he was assigned to the 12th Combat Cargo Squadron in the China-Burma-India Theater of operations. There he flew C-47 Skytrain transport combat missions from India throughout the Burma Campaign and C-46 Commandos across the Himalaya Mountains, known as the “Hump” to the Nationalist Chinese capital of Chungking. After release from active duty in January 1946, he became a member of the Reserve and entered the University of Maine.
In July 1956, Bob Rushworth was sent to Edwards AFB, California, to attend the Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School. After graduation in January 1957, he was assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center, also at Edwards, as an experimental flight test officer in its Fighter Operations Branch. Later he was operations officer in the Manned Spacecraft Operations Branch there and in July 1965, became assistant director of flight test operations at Edwards.
During his tour at Edwards, Rushworth test-flew F-101 Voodoos, TF-102 Delta Daggers, F-104 Starfighters, F-105 Thunderchiefs, F-106 Delta Darts, and other jet fighters as well as the X-15 rocket research aircraft. From November 4, 1960, to July 1, 1966, he flew the X-15, the world’s fastest and highest-flying winged aircraft a record 34 times, topping out at a maximum speed of Mach 6.06. Because his X-15 flight on June 27, 1963, reached an altitude of 53 miles, he is considered to have been in “technical outer space” for ten and a half minutes.
Rushworth thus became the second Air Force X-15 pilot to attain the astronaut rating, at the time awarded only to military pilots for flights 50 or more miles high. Later he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his emergency recovery of the X-15 he was flying after a premature extension of its nose gear at near Mach 5 speeds, and the Legion of Merit for overall accomplishments in the national interest of initial space flights.
In March 1968, Robert Rushworth volunteered to transfer to Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, in Vietnam, for duty as Assistant Deputy Commander of Operations. There, with the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing, he flew 189 combat missions in F-4 A/Cs. General Rushworth next served as program director of the AGM-65 Maverick program from 1969 to 1970. In February 1971, he became commander of the newly organized 4950th Test Wing, Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright-Patterson. He was promoted to major general August 1, 1975, with the date of rank November 1, 1972.
After serving as inspector general for Air Force Systems Command, Rushworth was named commander Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB. In this capacity, his responsibilities included the major test programs, including the F-5, A-10, F-15, YF-16, YF-17, and B-1. Later in 1975, as commander of the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Agency, General Rushworth was responsible for the worldwide operational evaluation of all new, major weapon systems designed for the U.S. Air Force.
From October 1976 until his retirement in June 1981, Robert Rushworth served as vice commander of the Aeronautical Systems Division, Air Force Systems Command. He dealt directly with senior deputies and managers and assisted the management of major acquisition programs such as the F-5, A-10, F-15, F-16, and B-1 as well as numerous modernization programs like the B-52 and C-5.
General Robert Rushworth was rated a command pilot astronaut and flew over 6,900 flying hours in more than 50 different aircraft. His military decorations and awards included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with one oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with 10 oak leaf clusters and the Air Force Commendation Medal. He also received the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s Exceptional Service Medal.
“Bob” Rushworth died at the age of 68 on March 17, 1993, in Camarillo, California.