Aviation lost many of its most notable people last year. General Aviation News would like to pay tribute to some of those people, who had such a profound effect on all of our lives.
JEROME F. LEDERER
Jerome F. Lederer, whose work made aviation safer for all of us, died Jan. 6. He was 101. Lederer started working in aviation safety jobs around the time of the first scheduled flights and continued into the age of space exploration. He introduced anti-collision lights on civil aircraft and ordered installation of flight data recorders on airliners when he was a federal official. He was among the first to study how and why some people survived and some died in aviation accidents.
THOMAS C. PARRAMORE
Dr. Thomas Custis Parramore, who wrote an aviation history column for GAN’s sister publication, The Southern Aviator, during the 1990s, died Jan. 13. He was 71. He was a well-known North Carolina historian, author and history professor. His last book, “First to Fly: North Carolina and the Beginnings of Aviation,” traces the history of flight from ancient myths and legends to some that have outlived the 2003 Centennial of Flight, which he attended.
JEAN ROSS HOWARD PHELAN
Jean Ross Howard Phelan, a pioneer helicopter pilot, died Jan. 29. She was 87. She signed up for the WASP during World War II but washed out “because of the strict Army discipline,” she would say without further explanation. She stayed to help run the WASP school in Texas. After the war she took a job in the then-new helicopter division at the Aircraft (later Aerospace) Industries Association. She insisted she could do her job better if she knew how to fly helicopters. After 18 days of lessons she became the eighth American woman, and 13th in the world, to receive a helicopter rating. She contacted the other 12 female helicopter pilots, with whom she founded the Whirly-Girls, an international organization of women helicopter pilots. Today, the Whirly-Girls have 1,265 members in 41 countries.
Legendary air show performer Duane Cole died Feb. 3. He was 89.
Cole learned to fly in 1938 and by 1940 was an instructor and air show pilot. He was a teacher of aerobatics who flew in countless air shows, many with his wife, Judy, as a wing-walker. He logged more than 30,000 hours of flight time.
Retired air show performer Judy Cole died Aug. 9. She was 84. She performed in the Cole Brothers Air Show as a wing walker.
Joe Ivar Soloy, chairman and founder of Soloy Corp., died Feb. 1. He was 79. Soloy, a bush pilot and inventor, founded his company in 1970 to develop improvements for aircraft engines. The company holds nearly 50 STCs.
RAY “HAWK” HAWKINS
Arthur Ray “Hawk” Hawkins, who was a World War II ace and later led the Blue Angels, died March 21. He was 81.
ROBERT K. MORGAN
Col. Robert K. Morgan, 85, who piloted and commanded the “Memphis Belle,” one of the most famous airplanes of World War II, died May 15. Morgan earned great public respect as pilot of the first Eighth Air Force bomber to complete 25 missions over World War II Europe. After completing those missions, the “Memphis Belle” and its crew returned to the United States to boost morale and help sell war bonds. Morgan then returned to combat, flying another 25 missions over Japan in B-29s.
“Memphis Belle” and her crew were featured in a wartime documentary film shot by Hollywood director William Wyler, who flew on five combat missions in the bomber. Wyler’s daughter Kathy produced the more recent fictional film “Memphis Belle.”
Robert E. Fulton Jr., inventor of a flying car that has found a place in the Air & Space Museum, died May 7. He was 95. Fulton’s flying car was only one of many successful inventions, which included a World War II-era combat gunnery simulator and a “skyhook” rescue device for downed aviators. The latter saved James Bond at the end of the movie “Thunderball.”
CHARLES W. SWEENEY
Maj. Gen. Charles W. Sweeney died July 16. He was 84. An Army Air Forces pilot during World War II, his second combat mission over Japan was to drop the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
Charles D. Mott, 89, a Flying Tiger who endured nearly four years of Japanese imprisonment during World War II, died July 30.
William J. (Pete) Knight, who flew NASA’s X-15A-2 to Mach 6.70, an astounding 4,520 mph, died May 7. He was 74.
Other than Shuttle astronauts, Knight flew faster than any other winged-aircraft pilot. He was a California state senator at the time of his death and also had served as mayor of Palmdale, Calif., after retirement from the Air Force in 1982.
Alaska’s senior statesman, Tom Wardleigh, died July 7. He was 78. Wardleigh, who had logged more than 38,000 hours, served as chairman of the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation since 1984. That stint followed a 24-year career with the FAA.
Wardleigh was also well-known throughout Alaska as a television personality. He hosted more than 900 episodes of his weekly “Hangar Flying” program on KTVF television.
His tireless work promoting safety was recognized in 2003 with one of the most significant awards in U.S. civil aviation, the FAA’s Award for Distinguished Service.
One of the three brothers who founded Schweizer Aircraft Corp., Paul Schweizer died Aug. 18. He was 91.
Fascinated by flight at an early age, Schweizer and his brothers, Ernie and Bill, founded their company in 1939, starting with gliders and sail planes and eventually expanding to helicopters, agricultural airplanes and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft.
Lt. Col. John F. Bolt, a Marine Corps fighter pilot who was this country’s last surviving double ace, died Sept. 8 in Tampa, Florida, where he had gone from his New Smyrna Beach home as Hurricane Frances approached. He was 83.
Bolt was a member of Marine Fighter Squadron 214 – The Black Sheep Squadron – during World War II.
Following World War II he transitioned to jets and, like fellow Marine John Glenn, was assigned to fly F-86s with the Air Force during the Korean War. In the course of a three-month tour he shot down six MiG-15s, becoming the only Marine ace of the Korean War and one of only seven Americans to be aces in both wars.
DUDLEY J. HILL
Dudley J. Hill Jr., a pilot for 60 years who’s Hill Aviation Services was the major FBO at the Lancaster, Pa., airport (LNS) for decades, died Sept. 28. He was 85.
Gordon Cooper, youngest of the seven original U.S. astronauts, died Oct. 4. He was 77. Cooper and his fellow Mercury pilots made America’s first manned space flights in the 1960s. Cooper piloted the Faith 7 spacecraft on a 22-orbit mission in May 1963, concluding the Mercury program.
He became the first man to make two orbital flights when he commanded the eight-day Gemini 5 mission. He and Charles Conrad set a record for time in space on that one. Cooper logged 225 hours, 15 minutes in space during his two flights. He left the astronaut program in 1970 to enter private business.
Dr. Maxim Faget, a retired aeronautical engineer whose innovative designs contributed greatly to manned space flight, died Oct. 10. He was 83.
Faget’s expertise in aerodynamics led to the shape of the Mercury space capsule, which also was the model for the Apollo spacecraft. He also designed the contoured couches for the capsules, and the escape towers fitted to Mercury and Gemini capsules in case of emergency. He rose to be chief of engineering at the Johnson Space Center before retiring.
Norman Labhart Jr., 48, who was affiliated with New Kolb Aircraft in London, Ky., was killed Nov. 15 in a crash at Chestnut Knolls Aviation Foundation Airpark. Labhart, an experienced pilot and longtime aircraft enthusiast, took people interested in buying New Kolb’s planes on test flights.
Joseph B. Funk, who, with his brother Howard, designed aircraft that many consider to be classics, died Dec. 2 at the age of 94. His brother died in 1995.
The brothers founded the Akron Aircraft Co., building 337 planes. About 200 of those still survive. During a shutdown to correct an engine problem, a creditor forced the company into bankruptcy in 1941. Rescue came from two oil-field suppliers, Bill and Raymond Jensen of Coffeyville, Kansas, who insisted that the Funks relocate to Coffeyville, where the revived firm was named the Funk Aircraft Co. During World War II the company built subassemblies for major contractors. After the war they built 178 planes, but ceased production when the post-war bubble burst in 1948. The Funks then manufactured power takeoffs and other devices for the Ford Industrial Engine Division. The Funk Manufacturing Co. carries on today as the largest employer in Coffeyville.