The Wiley Post Commission will present former NASA astronaut and retired U.S. Air Force General Thomas Stafford with the Wiley Post Spirit Award, in recognition of his many achievements. In addition, local aviation pioneer Otto Hess will be presented with the first Oklahoma Aviation Lifetime Achievement Award. The presentations are set to take place on April 3.
“These men exemplify the pioneering spirit of aviation,” said Liz Lundin, executive director of the Wiley Post Commission. “They are excellent examples of Oklahoma’s leadership, and we want to recognize their accomplishments in the field of aviation.”
Stafford, now 79, has flown more than six rendezvous in space, logged 507 hours in space flight and worn Air Force Command Pilot Astronaut wings. He has flown more than 127 different types of aircraft and four different types of spacecraft.
Stafford is a Weatherford, Oklahoma native who graduated with honors and a bachelor of science degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1952. He is the recipient of several honorary degrees and awards including being inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame and being the eighth recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
In May 1969, Stafford was commander of Apollo 10, the first flight of the lunar module to the moon. Later in his career, as deputy chief of staff for research, development and acquisition for the U.S. Air Force, Stafford was involved in initiating the F-117A stealth fighter. The following year, he helped to develop the B-2 stealth bomber.
Stafford is the fifth annual recipient of Wiley Post Spirit Award and its first astronaut. The award is named for the man who developed the first high altitude pressure suit, which led to the modern day space suit. In the 1930s, Wiley Post became the first person to make a solo flight around the world.
Another first will be the presentation of the Oklahoma Aviation Lifetime Achievement Award to Otto Hess for his dedication to aviation.
“If you lived in Oklahoma City in the 1950s, chances are Hess showed you the world’s first civilian jet airplane,” Don Dennis, president of the board of the Wiley Post Commission said. “Otto helped coordinate the display of the airplane at Will Rogers. It was a first for Oklahomans to view an airplane that wasn’t a military aircraft.”
Hess saw his first airplane land in a pasture near El Reno, where he was born in 1919. The 90-year-old said he didn’t dream it would be his living one day.
After being stationed in New York for the military, Hess moved back to Oklahoma City where he started as a business manager for Aircraftsmen, Inc. at Will Rogers Airport. During that time, he earned his wings and began his accumulation of 1,400 hours as a pilot.
“I soon learned to stay on the ground and take care of the business, which is the real position the company needed,” Hess said.
Hess started Tulakes Aviation, which he considers his biggest aviation achievement. He operated Tulakes Aviation until 1981, when he sold it and retired from the aviation business.
“I’m pleasantly surprised and flattered that I have been selected as the first person to receive such a prestigious award. It means a lot to me,” Hess said.
During the awards banquet, the Pearl Carter-Scott Aviation Scholarship will be presented to a member of the Chickasaw Nation. Pearl Carter-Scott, famed Chickasaw aviatrix, was a pioneer in aviation and in work with the Chickasaw Nation. She was a founding board member of the Wiley Post Heritage of Flight and Transportation Museum and personal friend of Wiley Post.