Jane Williams of Florida was chosen as the winner of a Cessna 172G Skyhawk, raffled off to benefit Winn-Aero, a non-profit aviation-based youth organization based at Laconia Municipal Airport in Gilford, N.H.
Williams will also receive a check for $1,200 to be used toward flight lessons or fuel.
On hand to draw the winning ticket was retired Air Force Col. Robert Fortnam of Pembroke. Now 90 years old, he still flies at least once a month, is a recipient of the U. S. Air Force Air Medal, Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, and to date has logged 12,360 hours in various aircraft. Members of WinnAero’s board of directors were deeply honored when Fortnam accepted the invitation to draw the winning ticket for the raffle, well aware of his dedication to aviation and the fact that he is a tremendous role model for today’s youth.
His career with the Army Air Corps, and later the Air Force, has been impressive and distinguished. He joined the military at age 19, flying B-17 bombers. During World War II, at age 21, he was co-pilot of an aircraft assigned to fly bomb runs over Germany. On his second mission, his B-17 was intercepted by German fighters and sustained heavy damage. The aircraft commander was badly wounded and incapacitated, so Lt. Fortnam assumed command of the aircraft and attempted to bring the stricken bomber home to the base in England. The damage to the aircraft was too extensive, and a crash landing short of England became inevitable. With the landing gear inoperative and with a dozen 500-pound bombs stuck in the bomb bay, Fortnam successfully crash-landed in occupied Holland. His entire crew survived, including the wounded pilot, but all were captured by German forces. They spent the next 19 months in a German P.O.W. Camp.
Fortnam fully understands the responsibility and benefit of passing his knowledge onto the next generation. A father of five, he taught his three sons to fly. He regularly visits schools to talk with children about his experiences during World War II. Knowing how important it is to record this type of information, he has participated in the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress, a project focused on documenting veterans’ experiences during wartime and has begun to put his stories and memories down on paper.
Fortnam’s dedication to youth, aviation, and education made him the perfect person to draw the winning ticket for a raffle that supports youth in aviation. His commitment to the nation’s youth mirrors WinnAero’s mission to promote a life-long interest in young people in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) through the use of aviation and aerospace programs.
Before the drawing, WinnAero President Bill Seed explained how he and several fellow pilots came up with the idea for creating a youth organization that promotes the STEM subjects, saying, “We were sitting together discussing over coffee the low ranking of students in the United States in the STEM subjects, which does not bode well for America. We decided to do something to try and help bring about a change to that, and we came up with WinnAero.”
Seed further explained that the organization has had tremendous support from the Laconia Airport Authority, Laconia Airport Manager Diane Cooper-Terrill, the Huot Technical Center in Laconia, as well as the community at large.
The raffle was not without its challenges. The winning ticket was scheduled to be drawn last September, but after having sold 700 tickets, the board decided to extend the raffle until January of this year. Perseverance and heavy promotion of the raffle paid off with the organization selling a grand total of 1,719 tickets, bringing in over $15,000 for WinnAero’s programs. Seed described this as a “big boost” for the organization, which experienced tremendous growth in 2012, both in number of students and instructors.
With more programs and teacher workshops planned for 2013, WinnAero will continue to grow in the coming year. Another airplane raffle is planned as well. For more information: WinnAero.org