Each year the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) honors a half-dozen individuals who have contributed to the advancement and the history of aviation in the United States. The historic aspect of their accomplishments is reinforced by one of the basic criteria for the award–one must be at least 60 years old to be accorded the Elder Statesman of Aviation award. The award was established in 1954 to honor outstanding Americans who have contributed significantly to aeronautics.
Recipients of the 1998 Elder Statesman of Aviation award are:
Walter J. Boyne, a founding member of our Aviation History editorial advisory board who boasts an impressive résumé of aviation accomplishments. A U.S. Air Force officer and pilot for 23 years who flew more than 5,000 hours in airplanes ranging from the Piper Cub to the B-1B bomber, he took the helm of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., after his service tenure. He made the NASM the most popular museum in the nation’s capital, established the Paul E. Garber storage and restoration facility, and oversaw production of some of the most popular IMAX large-screen films. Boyne has written thousands of pages of aviation history and moved into writing novels. He is presently helping develop Wingspan: The Aviation Channel, a cable channel dedicated to air and space subjects. Boyne lives aviation–and reflects it.
Colonel Charles Edward McGee, U.S. Air Force (ret.), is a former Tuskegee Airman who flew fighters during World War II, Korea and Vietnam (see interview in the March 1999 issue). McGee’s accolades include a formidable array of medals and honors, and he has been recognized as having flown more fighter sorties than anyone in U.S. Air Force history. An Eagle Scout, he has served as an aeronautical spokesman and a role model for youth, supporting programs aimed at encouraging youngsters to seek goals beyond what others might feel are societal constraints.
Donald L. Piccard is the acknowledged father of modern hot-air ballooning and a founder of the Balloon Federation of America. His achievements during the past 50 years have contributed greatly to the development and acceptance of ballooning as a sport, and resulted in modern hot-air ballooning competition as it is recognized throughout the world today. At 70, Piccard continues to instruct, promote and write about one of the oldest forms of air transportation.
George W. Putnam was recognized for his contributions to military rotary-wing aviation. He has been instrumental in promoting the concept of air mobility, i.e., integrating the use of helicopters and ground troops, as recommended in a 1962 government program. The resulting close cooperation between helicopters and ground units instituted during the Vietnam War and still practiced today has been called the most significant advancement in ground combat since the introduction of the tank.
Claire Lee McMillen Walters was told as a child that she was too poor to become a flight instructor and own a flight school. So she went ahead and did both the hard way–by following her personal philosophy of "plan and follow the plan; stay focused and work hard." She participated in nine transcontinental air races (Powder Puff Derbies) and was instrumental in the growth of the 99s, the International Organization of Women Pilots. She was the spark plug for the creation of an aviation museum about aviatrixes at the 99 headquarters at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City.
John F. Zugschwert started his aviation career as an Army parachutist and expanded his interests into the rotary-wing arena as an instructor pilot and instructor in numerous helicopter weapons systems. He became a pioneer in the employment of helicopter gunships in the low-level "nap of the earth" role for close support of ground units. He was instrumental in bringing several modern combat helicopters into production and initiated today’s Comanche helicopter program.
The NAA is the U.S. national aero club and the country’s oldest aviation organization. It promotes the advancement of the art, sport and science of aviation and space flight, and is the U.S. representative to the world aviation and space record-setting organization, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
Arthur H. Sanfelici, Editor, Aviation History