The National Aviation Hall of Fame has named Heather Taylor recipient of its Ninth Annual Combs Gates Award. She is being recognized for the documentary she directed and produced, “Breaking Through the Clouds: The First Women’s National Air Derby.”
Taylor will receive the $20,000 cash award in a formal presentation on Oct. 11 at a special opening session of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) 64th Annual Meeting & Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Presenting Taylor her award will be NAHF President Philip Roberts, accompanied by Hall of Fame enshrinees including former astronaut and the last man to walk on the moon, Eugene Cernan; business aviation pioneer and aerial cinematographer, Clay Lacy; and air show legends Bob Hoover and Sean D. Tucker.
“Breaking Through the Clouds” documents the First Women’s National Air Derby, a grueling nine-day race from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland, Ohio held in the summer of 1929. Taylor found that this gender-busting, front-page news-making event of the day had largely been lost to history, despite the now legendary status of many of its 20 competing pilots, such as Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes, and Louise Thaden. The film utilizes actual footage of the derby, much of it never before seen, as well as re-creations using the same aircraft types of the original participants.
Taylor spent 13 years researching, writing, producing and directing “Breaking Through the Clouds,” fulfilling her personal quest to see that these courageous pioneering women and their contributions to advancing aviation get the recognition and appreciation they deserve.
The prestigious Combs Award grew out of a donation to the NAHF by the late Harry Combs, a 1996 enshrinee of the Hall of Fame. As part of his $1.3 million gift for the creation of a NAHF research center, Combs stipulated that the Combs Award be established to encourage and support relevant aviation history research and preservation efforts. A panel of expert judges reviews each submission based upon criteria such as historical accuracy, creativity, potential for long-term impact, and value to the Hall of Fame mission of honoring America’s outstanding air and space pioneers.
Combs was instrumental to the growth and development of business aviation, according to officials. Consequently the NAHF partnered with the NBAA to host the award presentation at its annual meeting and convention.
John Gates and his sister, Diane G. Wallach, are co-trustees of the Gates Frontiers Fund, created by their late parents and philanthropists, Charles C. and June S. Gates. The late Mr. Gates, who passed away in 2005 at age 84, was a partner with Combs in several aviation businesses including the Combs Gates FBO chain and Gates Learjet. This year marks the ninth year for the award and the sixth year with the name changed to reflect a multi-year commitment by the Gates Frontiers Fund to fund the award.
The award pays homage to Gates’ belief in the benefit of historic preservation and study, and to Combs’ own research efforts behind his 1979 book, “Kill Devil Hill: Discovering the Secrets of the Wright Brothers.” Combs was inspired to write the book after close friend and fellow enshrinee, Neil Armstrong, presented him a bound collection of the Wright Brothers’ personal papers.
Combs died in December 2003 at age 90. During the inaugural award ceremony at the NBAA convention held a month before his passing, Combs remarked, “Just as Neil’s gift inspired me to discover the secrets of the Wrights, I want to motivate a new generation of historians, researchers and preservationists to continue the process of clarifying and preserving our nation’s amazing air and space history for generations to come.”
For more information: 937-256-0944, Ext. 10, or NationalAviation.org