San Diego Air and Space Museum Inducts Distinguished Class of 2019 Into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame

Dec. 9, 2019
Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos, MedAire founder Joan Sullivan Garrett, Lt. Col. David Hamilton, the last surviving Pathfinders Pilot from World War II, and other aviation and space luminaries enter the world’s most prestigious air and space Hall of Fame.

More than 600 guests were on hand on Saturday, November 23 to witness the induction of the Distinguished Class of 2019 into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

The 2019 class was a who’s-who of aviation and space pioneers, and included Jeff Bezos, Hawley Bowlus, Dr. Vance Coffman, Joan Sullivan Garrett, Robert J. Gilliland, Apollo astronaut Dick Gordon, Lt. Col. David Hamilton and Dr. Robert H. Liebeck.

During the gala, Bezos, who founded aerospace giant Blue Origin in 2000, shared his thoughts about the future of manned space exploration during an interesting and thought-provoking presentation. Bezos expanded on his vision of how Blue Origin is focused on developing infrastructure for the creation of human spaceflight capabilities and building a future where millions of people are living and working in space. 

An icon of the Golden Age of Flight, Bowlus’ efforts in glider design dominated from 1911-1929. He was an American engineer, designer and builder of aircraft, especially gliders. Bowlus was the first to break Orville Wright’s 1911 soaring duration record in an American designed and built sailplane. Renewing an earlier friendship with T. Claude Ryan, Bowlus joined Ryan Airlines in 1924 to lead the production of its M-1 and M-2 transports. The success of those aircraft led Charles Lindbergh to order production of the “Spirit of St. Louis” in 1927. Bowlus was the lead engineer on the “Spirit” project, creating the famous aircraft in less than three months. Bowlus was represented at the Hall of Fame Gala by his son Jack Bowlus.   

A retired Chairman of Lockheed Martin Corporation, Dr. Coffman served in a series of elected corporate leadership positions, including President and Chief Operating Officer of Lockheed Martin’s Space & Strategic Missile Sector. While President of Lockheed’s Space Systems Division in 1988, Coffman was responsible for the Hubble Space Telescope, the MILSTAR satellite communications program and the Follow-on Early Warning System, which is now called the Space Based Infrared System.

In 1983, Sullivan Garrett was serving as a critical care flight nurse and chief medical officer aboard an emergency helicopter evacuation flight, responding to a remote, rural traffic accident. Less than two years later, she founded MedAire – now the leading global provider of 24/7 integrated safety solutions for aviation and maritime where remote medical care is in high demand. Garrett’s congressional testimony in 2001 led to the FAA’s final ruling requiring US airlines to carry AEDs on all flights, domestic and international.

Gilliland was the first man to fly the SR-71 Blackbird and was the test-pilot for every Blackbird that came off the production line before they were turned over to the United States Air Force. He also played a vital role in developing the world’s most advanced aircraft used in top secret missions, which were critically important in winning the Cold War. He had more Mach 3 plus time than any other pilot in the world. Gilliland’s son, Robert Gilliland Jr., spoke on his late father’s behalf during the gala.

An American Naval officer and aviator, chemist, test pilot and NASA astronaut, Gordon was one of only 24 people to fly to the Moon. Gordon served as back-up pilot for Gemini 8, and in September 1966, he made his first space flight as pilot of Gemini 11. Gordon was subsequently assigned as backup Command Module Pilot for Apollo 9. In November 1969, he flew as Command Module Pilot of Apollo 12, the second manned mission to land on the Moon. Larry Gordon accepted on his father’s and family’s behalf.  

An elite special operations group, the Pathfinders were target-marking squadrons during WW II. Lt. Col. Hamilton enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and trained as a C-47 pilot. He was then selected to become a Pathfinders pilot. He participated in several critical missions, including dropping paratroopers into Normandy in advance of the allied invasion on D-Day. Hamilton is the last surviving Pathfinders pilot from D-Day, and his induction was truly one of the evening’s most touching moments.  

 Dr. Liebeck is a world-renowned authority on aerodynamics, hydrodynamics and aircraft design. He earned his Ph.D. in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering in 1968 and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Liebeck is most noted for his development of airfoils to make wings more efficient which have become known as “Liebeck Airfoils”. He’s also known as the father of the Blended Wing Body aircraft and is currently a Senior Fellow at The Boeing Company where he is program manager for the Blended-Wing-Body Program.  

Since 1963, the International Air & Space Hall of Fame has honored the world’s most significant pilots, crew members, visionaries, inventors, aerospace engineers, business leaders, preservationists, designers and space explorers.  

“We were especially pleased to honor this exemplary Class of 2019 because these men and women are amongst the most talented figures in air and space history,” said Jim Kidrick, President & CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum. “The Hall of Fame celebration was an evening everyone in attendance will remember for the rest of their lives.”  

Proceeds from the International Air & Space Hall of Fame celebration benefit the San Diego Air & Space Museum’s youth education programs.  

“Inspiring kids to undertake tough science and engineering challenges is a critical first step for our future,” Kidrick said. “We must also give them the resources and impetus they need to pursue science education degrees.”