The National Aviation Hall of Fame publicly announced this fall that its prestigious annual Combs Award has been renamed to reflect the support of the contest’s new benefactor, The Charles C. and June S. Gates Family Fund. This is the fourth year for the award but the first under its new name, the Combs Gates Award.
The Gates Family Fund recently stepped forward to underwrite the award for the next three years, starting in 2006. The award will be presented at the opening general session of the National Business Aviation Association Meeting & Convention on October 17, in Orlando, Fla.
Famed test pilot and air show legend, Bob Hoover, a 1988 National Aviation Hall of Fame enshrinee, will present the 2006 Combs Gates Award recipient with a $20,000 check. He’ll speak on behalf of the NAHF, a congressionally chartered nonprofit based in Dayton, Ohio, whose mission is dedicated to honoring America’s outstanding air and space pioneers.
The founding of the Combs Award grew out of a 2001 donation to the NAHF by the late Harry B. Combs, a 1996 NAHF enshrinee. As part of his generous $1.3 million gift for the creation of a NAHF research center, he stipulated that the Combs Award additionally be established. The juried competition’s objective is to encourage and reward relevant aviation history research and preservation efforts, especially those highlighting the achievement of the NAHF’s 190 enshrinees.
From projects submitted each year for review by the NAHF’s blue ribbon selection committee, one is chosen to receive the annual cash award. Previous recipients have been recognized for their work in aviation photography or nonfiction publishing, though guidelines allow for multimedia projects such as documentaries, screenplays or visual arts.
Combs was instrumental in the growth and development of business aviation and the NBAA. He was delighted to present the inaugural award at the NBAA’s 2003 convention, marking the 100-year centennial of the first powered flight, with fellow enshrinees Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan. Unfortunately, Combs passed away just weeks afterward. With Combs’ gift initially providing funding through the award’s first three years, the NAHF sought other supporters to maintain the award beyond 2005.
Upon hearing of the challenge to continue the award, Airport Journals’ publisher, Jerry Lips, introduced the organization to Diane Gates Wallach and John Gates, daughter and son of the late Charles C. and June S. Gates, and trustees of the Denver-based philanthropic foundation that bears their parents’ names. June Gates passed away in 2000 and Charles died in August 2005, at age 84.
Lips was confident that supporting the award was something both aviation industry visionaries might have collaborated on were they still alive. Charles Gates, a nominee for NAHF enshrinement, was a prominent business partner with Combs on several aviation ventures. He also ran several other successful business units under the privately owned Gates Corporation, including the Gates Rubber Company.
As a result, at the NAHF annual enshrinement dinner in July, Joe Engle, 2000 enshrinee and former astronaut, shared with the audience that the Gates Family Fund would be supporting the award with a three-year grant. In bringing Diane Wallach to the podium to speak on behalf of her family, Engle said, “We offer our gratitude to the Gates Family Fund trustees for their generous investment toward the preservation of our nation’s aviation legacy.”
Part of that legacy includes the Combs-Gates association in leading the former Combs-Gates FBO chain and Gates Learjet Corporation. Wallach, herself a rated Learjet pilot, pointed out that her father loved aviation and history.
“He always wanted to preserve what was good, so we could learn from it and go forward,” she said. “That’s what this award is about.”
The award also pays homage to Combs’ own historic research effort in authoring “Kill Devil Hill: Discovering the Secrets of the Wright Brothers.” He was inspired to write the acclaimed book when his close friend, Neil Armstrong, presented him with a bound collection of the Wright brothers’ personal papers.
Combs said of the award’s founding in 2003, “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 air and space history, for generations to come.”
The Combs Gates Award will continue to do just that, thanks to the unique reuniting of two past pioneering business aviation legends, Harry B. Combs and Charles C. Gates, and two great organizations that together have benefited from their vision, the National Business Aviation Association and the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
To obtain guidelines or to secure an application for next year’s award, contact the National Aviation Hall of Fame Harry B. Combs Research Department at 937-256-0944 ext. 18, or visit [http://www.nationalaviation.org]. For more information about the NBAA, visit [http://www.nbaa.org].