Four Arizona aviation pioneers have been named to the Arizona Aerospace Foundation’s Hall of Fame. The achievements of the four—Graham Edwards, Laurence Gesell, Arvin Schultz and Hewitt Wheless—will be added to the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame in the Spirit of Freedom Hangar at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Ariz.
The recognition was announced at the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame’s 19th Annual Induction Ceremony, held April 5 at the museum.
The Aviation Hall of Fame was started in 1985 to recognize individuals from Arizona for significant contributions to aerospace and aviation development. Noteworthy Arizona aviators who are in the Hall of Fame include Col. Frank Borman, Sen. Barry Goldwater and Sen. John McCain.
Flight instructor Graham “Lum” Edwards, a Tucson resident from the 1940s until his death in 2006, began his aviation career in 1942, when, at the age of 24, he received his private pilot, commercial and flight instructor certificates. He taught Army and Navy cadets through the military’s primary pilot training programs. In 1944, he joined the Army Air Force and was assigned to the multi-engine aircraft school at Douglas, Ariz. He flew newly built aircraft around the United States, trained in the B-24 and was assigned to fly the C-109 on fuel transport missions from India over the infamous “Hump” of the Himalayan Mountains into China.
After the war, Edwards moved to Tucson, where he flew as a flight instructor and chief pilot for several local businesses. He also served as a FAA designated flight examiner. He trained hundreds of pilots in Southern Arizona over more than 30 years. In 1972, he became an FAA accident prevention counselor and worked tirelessly to enhance aviation safety. In 1980, the U.S. Department of Transportation recognized him with the FAA Flight Instructor of the Year District Award.
Lt. Col. Laurence Gesell
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Laurence Gesell has been involved with aviation for most of his life. He flew helicopters with the Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star and 39 Air Medals. From 1957 until his retirement in 1999, he served with the U.S. Army, the Naval Reserve, Army National Guard and Army Reserve. Dr. Gesell received his PhD from Arizona State University in 1990 where he has served on the faculty for more than 22 years as Professor of Air Transportation Management. He’s published 17 books on aviation management, aviation law and ethics and two non-fiction documentaries on the history of Arizona and the Southwest.
Aviation advocate Arvin “Arv” Schultz received his pilot’s license in the mid-1960s and became a flight instructor with the Sawyer School of Aviation. In 1967, he began his career as an airline pilot with Apache Airlines. Over the next 30 years, he flew with Bonanza Airlines, AirWest Airlines, Hughes AirWest Airlines and Republic Airlines. He retired from Northwest Airlines in 1994.
In 1992, he began publishing Arizona Flyways Magazine to promote aviation in Arizona. In 2000, the magazine changed its name to America’s Flyways and expanded its coverage to the entire United States, but it continued to focus on the history and future of Arizona aviation. Schultz continues to work as a spokesman for aviation in the state, not only through his magazine but also as a speaker for aviation and civic groups.
Hewitt Wheless, a native of Menard, Texas, attended the University of Texas as an Army ROTC student. In 1936, he received his degree in civil engineering and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Infantry. He became a pilot in 1939, and joined the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron at March Field, California. In October 1941, he was transferred to the 19th Bombardment Squadron to fly B-17 Flying Fortresses to the Philippine Islands. During World War II, he participated in the desperate defense of the Philippines. His heroic actions in saving the lives of his crew earned him national attention. President Roosevelt mentioned him in a speech, and a movie, “Beyond the Line of Duty,” was made about his exploits. Hewitt retired from the Air Force in 1968 with the rank of lieutenant general.
After his retirement, he moved to Tubac, Ariz., and joined the board of directors of Gates Learjet. He was instrumental in bringing more of the company’s operations to Tucson. He served on the board until 1980. Gen. Wheless passed away in 1986 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The personal histories of Edwards, Gesell, Schultz and Wheless will be part of the permanent exhibit at the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame.