By Reggie Paulk
Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum honored Steve Fossett during its annual Spreading Wings fundraising gala on Nov. 2. Missing since Labor Day when his small airplane disappeared, Fossett had planned to attend the event. His wife Peggy attended in his honor.
The gala raises money to support the museum, as well as its Spreading Wings youth outreach mission, which inspires and educates young people while improving math and science achievements. Previous recipients of the award include Chuck Yeager, Burt Rutan and Carl Williams.
Greg Anderson, Wings president and CEO, explained why the organization selected Fossett to receive the award.
“His aviation achievements exemplify the determination, can-do spirit and high standards that we associate with aviation and space,” said Anderson.
Dick Rutan and Barrington Irving served as honorary co-chairmen for the gala. In 1986, Rutan flew Voyager in the first un-refueled, nonstop flight around the world with copilot Jeana Yeager. This year, Barrington Irving became the youngest pilot and first person of African descent to make a solo flight around the world. These two men are uniquely qualified to speak in honor of Fossett, whose first nonstop, un-refueled flight around the world, in the GlobalFlyer, broke the solo round-the-world record. His second flight broke the absolute distance record set by Rutan and Yeager.
Before speaking about Fossett, Rutan thanked Anderson for what his organization is doing for youth.
“Let me try to put what you’re doing with these kids into historical perspective,” he said. “We’ll go way back to a mother who took her young son out to Flabob Airport (RIR) in Riverside, Calif. She could ill-afford this, but they climbed into the back of a Piper J-5 Cub, and they spent about 10 minutes circling the sky over Riverside.”
Rutan said that when that little kid looked down, what he saw and what he experienced would change his life forever.
“The most important thing that happened at that time is nobody on planet Earth had any idea what that kid would grow up to do,” he said. “That he would fly the very first airplane nonstop and un-refueled around the world—an airplane designed by his younger brother. We couldn’t even imagine these things. We stand here today on the very same threshold as educators and parents. Our responsibility is to make sure they’re motivated and healthy. We have to make sure they get a basis in science and math to do something we can’t even imagine.”
Rutan went on to describe Fossett.
“I was a colleague of Steve’s, and I had the privilege of knowing him as a competitor and as a friend,” he said. “There was something that impressed me about him, and that was his hardheaded, dogged persistence in what he was going to do. If anybody was determined, even if it wouldn’t work the first time, it was my buddy Steve.”
Irving echoed Rutan’s statements.
“I look at Mr. Fossett and I say to myself, ‘Here’s a guy, not the tallest guy in the world, not the most built guy in the world, but look at the things he does.’ What causes that? What generates that?” he asked. “Here you have a man who had a tremendous passion for what he did. He loved every single minute of it. While I flew around the world, I reminded myself of guys like Steve Fossett and Dick Rutan, because they trail-blazed the way for young people like me out of nowhere to even think, ‘I can do this.'”
Sir Richard Branson appeared via a videotaped tribute to Fossett.
“Steve Fossett was a great friend and an extraordinary man,” Branson said. “To retire from business at age 55 and go on to get 125 world records was so extraordinary; it will never be repeated again. He was a real pleasure to know. It’s an incredible loss to all of us.”
Peggy Fossett’s statement reflects the continued support of our youth.
“Steve has always thrived on adventure and challenge,” she said. “The true reward for him comes in conquering the obstacles and attaining the desired goal, sometimes after many attempts. The example he has set, and the encouragement he has given to others, are my greatest sources of pride in Steve. He would be happy to know that his accomplishments inspire that spirit of adventure in others, especially young people.”