Dr. Richard Hallion, PhD, aerospace historian and author, was recently announced as the recipient of the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s 2006 Combs Gates Award. Hallion was recognized with the $20,000 cash award for his extensive research on a book project titled “High Enterprise: America and Aerial Competitiveness in the Golden Age of Flight, 1919-1939.” The award was formally presented at the National Business Aviation Association Annual Meeting and Convention on October 17, in Orlando, Fla.
Hallion, a former museum curator and U.S. Air Force historian who lives in Alexandria, Va., has previously authored more than a dozen books that chronicle American developments in air and space exploration, in both military and civil arenas. “High Enterprise” documents America’s post-WWI role in the aviation industry and how its aeronautical lead was regained in the face of foreign competition through “a blending of federal, private and public investment, technological exploitation and innovation, and the actions of individual risk-takers and entrepreneurs.” Hallion explores how these lessons and examples are worth examining today.
Judges reviewed each submission based upon criteria such as historical accuracy, creativity, potential for long-term impact and value to the Hall of Fame and its mission of honoring America’s outstanding air and space pioneers.
The prestigious Combs Award grew out of a 2001 donation to the NAHF by the late Harry Combs, a 1996 enshrinee of the Hall of Fame. As part of his generous $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. The inaugural award was presented in 2003, the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight.
Combs was instrumental to the growth and development of business aviation. Consequently, the NAHF partnered with the NBAA to host the award presentation at its annual meeting and convention, the largest purely civil aviation event in the world.
Three NAHF enshrinees presented the award at the opening general session of the convention: Eugene Cernan, former astronaut and the last man to walk on the moon; Bob Hoover, WWII fighter pilot, test pilot and air show legend; and Joe Kittinger, record-setting test pilot and Vietnam War POW. John Gates joined them. Gates and his sister, Diane G. Wallach, are co-trustees of the Charles C. and June S. Gates Family Fund. Their father, the late Charles Gates, was a partner with Combs in several businesses, including the Combs Gates FBO chain and Gates Learjet. Gates passed away in 2005 at age 84. Originally known as the Combs Award, the name was changed this year to reflect a multi-year commitment by the Gates family 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 acclaimed 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 with 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, he 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.”
To find out more about the award or to secure an application for next year’s Combs Gates Award, contact the NAHF Harry B. Combs Research Department at 937-256-0944, ext. 18, or visit [http://www.nationalaviation.org].