By Deb Smith
Three Colorado chapters of the Ninety-Nines, one of the state’s first professional organizations for women pilots, have been inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, receiving an organization award. The Nov. 11 ceremony, held at the Lakewood Country Club in Lakewood, Colo., honored the achievements of the Colorado, High Country and Pike’s Peak chapters—and marked the 40th anniversary of the Colorado Aviation Historical Society.
“Looking back, I a feel a great sense of accomplishment on behalf of the organization,” said Bea Khan Wilhite, president of the CAHS. “The incredible amount of knowledge and experience of the founders, the subsequent boards of directors and of the Hall of Fame laureates is a unique and valuable asset, a passionate voice of aviation from the past, present and future.”
The luncheon gala attracted more than 200 distinguished members from Colorado’s aviation community, including 25 past Hall of Fame laureates.
In the mid-1960s, a group of individuals decided that Colorado aviation history needed to be collected and preserved.
“In addition, they wanted a place where the men and women in Colorado’s aviation history could be permanently recognized,” Wilhite said.
Enthusiasts were concerned about the need to preserve the state’s aviation history, especially while some aviation pioneers were still living. They formed the Colorado Aviation Historical Society in 1966, to “acquire, restore, preserve and provide for public display, aircraft and other items of interest and value in connection with the development and history of Colorado aviation.”
Original founders included Ed “Mack” Miller, former narrator for the Colorado Air National Guard’s Minute Men aerial demonstration team and a United Airlines captain; Casey Cameron and Rollie Graves of Continental Airlines; Antique Airplane Association members Capt. Don Taylor (founder), Bruce Kissler and George Welch; Ken Moe, chief pilot for Mountain Bell; and Dodie Engel, United Airlines secretary.
Members supporting the organization in the early days included Capt. Jack Wilhite of United Airlines and the Colorado Air National Guard; Capt. Glen Allred and Capt. Elrey B. Jeppesen of United Airlines; and Capt. Marion P. Barnwell and Capt. O.R. “Ted” Haueter of Continental Airlines. The society had a number of contributing members, including Ben Bezoff, former public relations manager for Denver Municipal/Stapleton Airport; broadcast weatherman Ed Bowman; Don Martin, former Stapleton manager; Bill McNichols of Denver Public Works and later Denver mayor; Jerry Miller, Oliver Phillips and Jack Toll from the Antique Aircraft Association; Maj. Gen. Joe C. Moffitt, former Colorado adjutant general; and Frontier Airlines Capt. Ray Wilson and his wife Alverta.
Don Taylor, the first society president, lives in Albuquerque, N.M., and currently serves as a vice president at Eclipse Aviation. He served as the historical society’s president for six months. When United Airlines transferred Taylor to Chicago, Ed Mack Miller assumed the responsibilities of president. Capt. G.M. “Casey” Cameron served as president of the society in 1971. Although Cameron now lives in Hemet, Calif., he’s a lifetime member and continues his support. Col. Jack Wilhite served as society president from 1996 to 2000 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.
On three separate occasions, the historical society presented awards to Dody Engel, including a special recognition award in 2002. Engel was born in Ohio and came to Colorado to work for United Airlines’ flight training center, where she served as secretary from 1960 to 1975. She married Dale Engel, a United Airlines mechanic.
Engel had an avid interest in history, especially aviation history, and has been an important and integral part of the historical society, where she has served as secretary for many years. She’s a vital source of information about the society’s early years.
“Without her, the society might never have been born, and would not have accomplished what it has,” said Wilhite.
The Colorado Aviation Historical Society established the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame on Nov. 11, 1969. Ten pioneers were inducted at the first ceremony, with author Ernest K. Gann as the keynote speaker.
To be considered for induction, an individual or an organization must have substantially contributed to some identifiable phase of aviation that was of great benefit to Colorado. Past inductees include such renowned personalities as astronaut John Leonard “Jack” Swigert Jr. (1988), famed female commercial pilot Emily Howell Warner (1983) and Elrey B. Jeppesen (1970). Other distinguished inductees are Fitzroy “Buck” Newsom, Tuskegee Airmen (1991); the Women Airforce Service Pilots (2005); the Minutemen, Colorado Air National Guard (2003); Col. William “Bill” Bower, Doolittle Raider #12 (2004); Col. Wilson V. Edwards, Eagle Squadron (2001); Brig. Gen. Steven Ritchie, Vietnam ace (1997); Carl M. Williams, community leader and philanthropist (1997); and Dr. James J. Parks, historical WWI artifact collector (1989).
Over the years, the organization has bestowed 172 individual awards, eight organizational awards and 16 special recognition awards.
“Each has a unique story. Each one is a true testament to the spirit of aviation here in Colorado,” said Wilhite. “Clearly, the generations of laureates are all patriots and heroes.”
The Colorado Ninety-Nines
Christina Bently, the 2005 to 2007 chairman for the Colorado Chapter of the
Ninety-Nines, accepted her chapter’s award. The Colorado Chapter was chartered in Denver on Sept. 28, 1941. Jacqueline Cochran signed the charter.
The Colorado Chapter is dedicated to aviation education and safety, as demonstrated by their aerospace teacher workshops, Flight without Fear clinics and the educational Air Bear children’s program. They host the Powder Puff Derby, organize Air Race Classic stops in Colorado, hold open houses and support air shows.
Donna Tracy Myers, a noted aviatrix and the first woman pilot licensed in Colorado, was a charter member of the Colorado Chapter and became the Ninety-Nines national president in 1967. Myers was inducted into the CAHF in 1974.
The High Country Ninety-Nines
Pat Verstraete, chairman of the High Country Chapter, accepted her chapter’s award. Chartered on Nov. 17, 1959, High Country’s purpose is to support pilots and to promote aviation. The chapter has a close relationship with the Girl Scout Council, with more than 1,000 Girl Scouts attending High Country events.
The High Country Chapter has hosted science-sponsored presentations by astronaut Sandra Magnus.
Pikes Peak Ninety-Nines
Anne Whonic, chairman of the Pikes Peak Chapter, accepted her chapter’s award.
The Pikes Peak Chapter was chartered Sept. 17, 1984. Chapter service projects include air markings, airport beautification, volunteering at the Colorado Balloon Classic (since 1984) and hosting at the grand opening of the Colorado Springs airport terminal.
The chapter also supports community aviation education activities, such as grade school presentations, EAA Young Eagles companion flyer courses and supporting the Air and Space Expo in Colorado Springs. In the area of pilot education and safety, the chapter sponsors the United States Precision Flying Team competition and FAA safety meeting, and provides judges for the National Intercollegiate Flying Association and air races, such as Mile High and Air Race Classic. The chapter sponsored Polly Vacher in her 2003/2004 around-the-world flight and astronaut Marsh Ivins at a Women Soaring Pilots seminar in Colorado Springs.
Wilhite feels a great sense of accomplishment on behalf of the CAHS. There’s a great amount of activity within the organization. The current mission of the CAHS is urgent: to accumulate and protect aviation memorabilia and artifacts and to use them for educational purposes.
The society is interested in more than just photos and documents. It’s also interested in donations of any historical aviation items.
“When individuals ‘fly west,’ many valuable items, which to us are historical, are simply discarded,” she said. “That’s a tragic loss to our aviation heritage.”
The Colorado Aviation Historical Society invites persons interested in aviation history to join the organization. Potential members need not be pilots, but must simply hold an avid interest in aviation.
“So much is exciting in the aviation world—old and new aircraft,” said Wilhite.
All previous presidents worked to achieve specific society goals. According to records, the most desired goals were to own an Alexander Eaglerock aircraft, establish a Hall of Fame Heritage Hall and build a home base for its collection and activities.
“We’re fortunate to have achieved these goals in recent years, and we’re deeply grateful to everyone involved,” Wilhite said.
Under Scott Hamilton’s presidency, the historical society played a major role in the establishment of Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. The society’s archives are located at the museum’s hangar number one, located at the former Lowry Air Force Base.
The Heritage Hall at Wings opened with great fanfare on Aug. 11, 2001. On March 27, 2004, the society dedicated and gratefully acknowledged Lorena H. Bymaster’s donation honoring her late husband, Don A. Bymaster. Their 1926 long-wing, straight-axle Alexander Eaglerock (number 15 SN122, NC2568), built in Englewood, Colo., was originally owned by Charlie Birt of Guyman, Okla. Don Bymaster painstakingly reconstructed the airplane, and it’s now on display at Wings Over the Rockies.
David Ebershoff, lifetime member and supporter, donated a Steen Skybolt aerobatic biplane in 2003. His passionate desire is to expose youth to aviation, and he feels the Skybolt can be an impetus for their involvement. The late Lamar Steen (CAHF honoree, 1990), a pilot and educator, inspired him. Steen taught at Manuel High School, but had little success with his students, until he led them into building a small aerobatic airplane, the Skybolt, which he designed.
Dave Ebershoff is spearheading the effort to implement the Skybolt
project. Among the notable people involved, Brian Richardson (CAHS director) and Ralph Latimer (CAHS special achievement award, 1993) have been appointed by Wilhite to assist.
Richardson, an FAA safety manager, is chairing Aviation Archeology, a program begun in 2006 to locate, identify and record “downed” aircraft in Colorado. The first class was conducted at Jefferson County Airport in June 2006. (Information for this project is available by visiting www.coloradoaviationarchealogy.org.)
Wilhite has joined Daril Cinquanta, JAA chair and CAHS member, as well as John Clancy, Steve Beech and Mark Johnson in a special project. The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners and Jeffco Airport officially endorsed the development of the nonprofit Jeffco Aviation Center at Jefferson County Airport, on Oct. 10, 2006. Approximately 25,000 square feet of airport property has been reserved for design and construction of an aviation community building. Cinquanta has been named president.
“I wasn’t surprised to learn that 24 active aviation organizations don’t have suitable places to archive and exhibit their
collections, nor do they have access to space for meetings and education programs 24/7,” said Wilhite.
Charles “Chuck” Holmes, CAHS director and historian, continues to amass for the society a rare collection of autographed books, all with authentic autographs from the greatest aviators and aviation pioneers of our time. Holmes edited and compiled the history of the society, and features laureates in the honoree album (available to the public).
Construction of the CAHS website, chaired by Michael McRhodes, director, and Lance Barber, vice president, is halfway completed. Because of the amount of work that needs to be done, the society’s volunteers are vital.
“Our volunteers are all devoted and dedicated,” said Wilhite. “Here we are in December, and we’re already planning the Jeffco Open House and JAA fly-in for June 9, 2007!”
For more information, visit [http://www.coloradoaviationhistoricalsociety.org] or call 303-341-7711.