The National Aviation Hall of Fame has announced the names of the four air and space pioneers selected to be enshrined at the 45th Annual Enshrinement Ceremony that will take place in Dayton on Saturday, July 15, 2006. These four legends of aviation will join the roster of 186 enshrinees.
The enshrinee Class of 2006 consists of Bessie Coleman, the first Afro-American female licensed pilot; David “Tex” Hill, WWII fighter ace; Cliff Robertson, aviation advocate, pilot and actor; and test pilot and X-15 astronaut Robert M. White.
Bessie Coleman was the first American of color, male or female, to earn a pilot’s license. Born in Atlanta, Texas, in 1893, Coleman eventually moved to Chicago. She was living in that city with her brother when her interest in flight inspired her to pursue a pilot’s license.
Turned away from several aviation schools in the United States because of her color, she traveled to France, where she was able to earn her pilot rating. She graduated in June 1921.
When she returned to America, Coleman was the only black female pilot in the world and the first licensed black pilot in the U.S. Postponing her dream to start a flying school for African-Americans, she earned a living performing aerobatic flight demonstrations at air shows and other public expositions. After recovering in 1926 from her first serious accident, she returned to performing, but tragically lost her life while flying in preparation for a Florida air show. Ironically, within a few years of her death, Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs became a reality.
David Lee “Tex” Hill
David Lee “Tex” Hill was born in Korea. He joined the U.S. Navy and graduated as a naval aviator in 1939.
After piloting carrier-based dive-bombers, Hill resigned his commission to join the newly formed American Volunteer Group “Flying Tigers” in 1941. Hill was flight leader and later squadron leader for the AVG 2nd Squadron until it was disbanded in July 1942.
He was the second leading air ace of the AVG, with 12 1/4 victories. Hill volunteered to remain in China and was commissioned as a major in the U.S. Army when the AVG became the 23rd Fighter Group of the 14th Air Force.
He left China at the end of 1942, but returned less than a year later, at the request of Gen. Claire Chennault, to command the 23rd Fighter Group. He gained six more victories and became a triple ace, with 18 1/4 total victories.
Hill returned to the U.S. to command the 412th Fighter Group, the first jet aircraft group in the Army Air Force. Upon leaving active duty in July 1946, he was appointed brigadier general in the Texas Air National Guard, commanding the 58th Fighter Wing, becoming the youngest one star general in the guard’s history.
Cliff Robertson is an Oscar and Emmy award-winning actor who grew up an admitted “airport rat” in La Jolla, Calif. Fourteen-year-old Robertson would bicycle 13 miles to watch airplanes take off and land, and volunteered to wash planes and clean engines in the hopes that a pilot would give him a lesson and ride.
In 1969, Robertson organized an effort to fly food and medical supplies into civil war torn Biafra, Nigeria. In 1978, when a famine affected Ethiopia, he organized a relief effort to fly in supplies.
Robertson has earned many prestigious awards for his energetic advocacy of general aviation, including the Experimental Aircraft Association Freedom of Flight Award, the Soaring Society of America Award and the AOPA William Sharples Award for Rescue Flying in Africa. He served as inaugural chairman of the EAA Young Eagles program and continues to work tirelessly for programs that introduce youth to the joy of flight and encourages them to earn their pilot certificates.
Robert M. White
Robert M. White, a native of New York, received his wings in 1944, before assignment to the 354th Fighter Squadron, based in England, flying bomber escort missions in the P-51 Mustang.
In 1945, he was shot down over Germany and spent two months in a prison camp. In 1954, he attended the USAF Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB. As a test pilot, White flew and evaluated advanced models of the F-86 Sabre, F-89 Scorpion and the new F-102 Delta Dart and the F-105 Thunderchief. As the lead pilot in the X-15 research program, White flew it to a speed of 2,275 mph, in February 1961, setting an unofficial world speed record.
Over the next eight months, he became the first human to fly an aircraft at Mach 4 and Mach 5. On Nov. 9, 1961, he became the first person to fly Mach 6. On July 17, 1962, he set an altitude record of 314,750 feet–more than 59 miles above the earth’s surface–qualifying him for astronaut wings. He’s one of only a handful of “winged astronauts” who achieved the status without a conventional spacecraft.
National Aviation Hall of Fame
Founded in 1962 and chartered by Congress in 1964, the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s mission is dedicated to honoring America’s outstanding air and space pioneers.
The organization’s 17,000-square-foot Learning Center opened to the public in January 2003. It features six galleries that chronicle the exciting history of flight through the people and achievements that made it happen.
A variety of interactive displays highlight many contributions of the 186 enshrinees honored to date. The site is also home to the Harry B. Combs Research Center, dedicated to preserving tens of thousands of images and documents tracing the enshrinees’ life stories.
The annual enshrinement dinner and ceremony is often referred to as “the Oscar Night of Aviation.” It draws an audience of hundreds of NAHF members, aerospace professionals and previous enshrinees, as well as defense, government and industry leaders.
Advance reservations to the NAHF 45TH Annual Enshrinement Ceremony can be placed by calling 937-256-0944, ext. 10. Seats are $125 per person. The NAHF is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. A portion of each seat purchased is deductible as allowed by law. For more information, visit [http://www.nationalaviation.org].