The first female commercial jet airline captain and a fighter pilot turned astronaut in Gemini and Apollo space missions are among six aerospace pioneers who will be inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame next year.
Ron Kaplan, the hall’s enshrinement director, said Tuesday the number of inductees in the class of 2014 was the largest in decades. A board of nomination of more than 100 members across the nation chose the six among a field of more than 200 nominees.
The newest class was announced on the 110th anniversary of the Wright brothers first powered, heavier-than-air airplane flight near Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903.
Hall of Fame inductee Emily Howell Warner, 74, of Denver, C0lo., had doubts she would be allowed into the cockpit as the captain of a commercial airline jetliner. She said she never gave up, and in 1973 Warner was selected for the job in an era that pushed for equal gender rights, she said.
“I thought all they do is hire men pilots,” she said in a telephone interview. “It took me four years, but I finally got hired by Frontier Airlines.” She logged more than 21,000 flight hours in her career as a pilot and flight instructor, among her accomplishments.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. James A. McDivitt, 84, of Tucson, Ariz., and Rapid City, Mich., said he decided he wanted to make the Air Force his career after he flew 145 combat missions as a fighter pilot in Korea. Later, he became a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and flew into orbit aboard Gemini 4 and Apollo 9 prior to leading the Apollo space program to the moon.
He recalled that historic era of manned space exploration in the 1960s and a nation “gung-ho” about the challenge to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade despite the dangers of the unknown.
“Nobody knew if we were going to live of die,” he said. “Everything we did was brand new.”
Other enshrinees include:
- The late Bertrand “Bert” B. Acosta, one of the nation’s first test pilots and the first aviator to serve in both the Army Air Service and the Navy, according to the Hall of Fame. The record-setting pilot built and flew his first airplane in 1910, and was a mechanic, flight instructor, aeronautical engineer and airplane industry consultant. He died in 1954 at age 59.
- Alan and Dale Klapmeier, ages 55 and 52 respectively, two brothers who started the Cirrus Aircraft company in Duluth, Minn., in 1984. The airplane maker earned a reputation for innovation using new technologies in general aviation. The duo’s propeller-driven aircraft sported “glass panel” cockpits, composite parts and a plane parachute system. “They are largely recognized for revolutionizing the general aviation industry with what they did at the company they founded,” Kaplan said.
- The late Sylvester “Steve” J. Wittman. The airport manager was instrumental in convincing the Experimental Aircraft Association to locate its world famous annual airshow and fly-in to the Wisconsin city, Kaplan said. “He’s kind of the fabric of what people call Oshkosh,” Kaplan said. The regional airport in Oshkosh is named after Wittman, who built an airplane in 1924 and competed in his first air race in 1926. The aircraft designer and maker sold thousands of home-built airplane kits. He died at age 91 in a private plane crash in Alabama with his wife, Paula, in 1995.
The inductees will be formally enshrined Oct. 4, 2012 in ceremony at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The hall has inducted 219 air and space pioneers since 1962.