Wally Funk has carved a career of trailblazing firsts. A true aviation pioneer, she may be best known to many for her recent journey into space on a Blue Origin rocket, but many years and accomplishments prepared Funk for that remarkable moment.
She can now add R.A. “Bob” Hoover Trophy recipient to her long list of accolades. Funk was presented the honor by AOPA President Mark Baker during a gala event at Signature Flight Support at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., on March 23. The event honored Funk, as well as other outstanding aviators and innovative aviation companies.
Funk accepted the highest honor of the night for exhibiting “the airmanship, leadership, mentorship, and passion for aviation” that Hoover exemplified, as well as for having a “distinguished career as a pilot and aviation advocate while also serving as a source of inspiration and encouragement for current and prospective aviators.”
“One of Bob Hoover’s hallmark lines was, ‘The most important thing any aviator can do is to encourage others to want to fly.’ I can’t think of a more inspirational aviator and a more deserving winner of this year’s trophy,” said Baker. “There are many, many people, especially women, who have pursued the great passion for flight because of Wally.”
On July 20, 2021, from a launchpad in West Texas, Funk’s aviation career came full circle when she blasted off aboard Blue Origin NS-16 to an altitude of 107 kilometers. At the time, she was the oldest person to travel in space and became the only member of the Mercury 13 team to ever lift off.
“I have had such a wonderful life in aviation ever since I fell in love with it when I was two years old,” Funk said after receiving the award from Baker. “I’ve done so much in aviation and still going! I feel so humbled tonight with this award.”
Funk’s aviation excellence was recognized in 1974 when she accepted the role of air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington. She was the NTSB’s first female investigator.
Not only has Funk accumulated 19,600 flight hours, she has also been persistent in paying it forward for future generations of aviators. As a professional flight instructor, Funk has guided more than 3,000 students to their private pilot certificate or an advanced rating. She is also the author of the inspirational book Higher, Faster, Longer: My Life in Aviation and My Quest for Spaceflight.
She joins an impressive list of Hoover Trophy winners, including Hoover himself, Sean D. Tucker, Harrison Ford, Clay Lacy, and Burt Rutan.
Brigadier General Charles E. McGee Aviation Inspiration Award
The Brigadier General Charles E. McGee Aviation Inspiration Award was presented to Glenn Gonzales, founder, and CEO of Jet It, which leverages the innovative HondaJet to create a unique path to general aviation access for pilots and passengers.
Like McGee, Gonzales is a U.S. Air Force veteran who has used his military and aviation background to make a difference for others. In his own community, Gonzales founded a military community outreach organization, called The 71st Fighter Squadron Iron Foundation, and also served as a program coordinator for Special Olympics. He has inspired many local youths—and adults—through his words and deeds.
“As you know, America lost a true hero earlier this year in General McGee,” Baker said. “He was an inspiration and a true friend to the aviation world. True to his lifelong spirit, we are happy to recognize Glenn, who, like General McGee, persevered to overcome challenges en route to learning to fly—while inspiring others along the way.”
AOPA General Aviation Safety Award
AOPA Air Safety Institute Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden presented the AOPA General Aviation Safety Award to Garmin International for its innovative Autonomi system, lifesaving technologies that can be used in the event of pilot or aircraft incapacity. The suite includes the renowned autoland function. Phil Straub, the company’s executive vice president, and managing director of aviation accepted the award on behalf of Garmin.
“We recognize there are many individuals and organizations that have contributed extraordinary safety measures for the benefit of all of us in general aviation. But, some stand out—like Garmin,” said McSpadden. “That is exactly why we established the General Aviation Safety Award, to honor those like Garmin who have delivered exceptional safety contributions for those of us in the air and on the ground.”
The Sharples Award
The 2021 Sharples Award is given to someone who has made extraordinary contributions to GA in honor of AOPA’s first chairman of the board, Laurence P. Sharples. Two Sharples Awards were presented during the event because of a COVID-19 pause of in-person events.
The 2021 honor was presented to Dewey Davenport. For more than 20 years, Davenport, a first officer at NetJets, has been a true ambassador for GA—especially throughout the Midwest.
“Dewey is an accomplished aviator, but he will be the first to say that his biggest victories lie in the future aviators he has introduced to this wonderful passion,” Baker explained. “Dewey’s passion for aviation, commitment to inspiring this next generation, and successful advocacy efforts make him the perfect choice for the 2021 Laurence P. Sharples Award.”
That honor was immediately followed with the 2022 Sharples Award presentation to Anthony “Tony” Restaino, president of Florida Aero Club and AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer for North Perry Airport in Hollywood, Florida.
“Tony has exemplified the meaning of ASN as he saved his home airport at North Perry from closure threats on several occasions,” said Baker. “Tony also spearheaded critical humanitarian relief GA flights to the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. As the President of the Florida Aero Club, Tony is inspiring the next generation of pilots.”
The Hartranft Award
The 2021 Hartranft award, named after AOPA’s first president and former chairman of the board “Doc” Hartranft, was presented to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), chair of the House Aviation Subcommittee and a member of the House GA Caucus, for his contributions to the advancement of GA.
“As you know, we are all about the freedom to fly. But this freedom is only protected when we have valued allies on Capitol Hill like Rick Larsen who understand the importance of general aviation to our nation and local communities—and who help keep GA safe and accessible,” Baker explained. “Inspiring leaders like Rick allow us to pursue this wonderful passion that we all cherish and share.”
Larsen is a longtime supporter of AOPA and GA With almost 1,200 AOPA members in his Washington district alone, he understands the vital role and economic benefit that GA provides to our nation.
Larsen’s list of accomplishments on behalf of GA is a long one. He was an original co-sponsor of the bipartisan National Center for the Advancement of Aviation Act, an effort to create an independent center to facilitate collaboration and address workforce challenges. He also supported the inclusion of a bipartisan amendment on flight training, seeking to reverse the misguided notion that flight training is viewed as carrying a passenger for compensation.
“In Washington state and across the country, general aviation means jobs and helps business succeed,” Larsen said. "GA is a lifeline for communities, for both business and emergency. Getting this award tonight means important recognition for GA.”