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California Aviation Hall of Fame Honors Innovators

Hall of Fame inductee Iris Cummings Critchell receiving award from Nissen Davis

The Museum of Flying at Santa Monica Airport hosted the second annual California Aviation Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony on Saturday, April 25th. This year’s Hall of Fame induction honored four amazing individuals in aviation: pioneering woman flight instructor Iris Cummings Critchell, celebrated test pilots Fitzhugh “Fitz” Fulton and Robert J. “Bob” Gilliland, and famed airplane and spaceship designer Burt Rutan.

After competing as a swimmer in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, Iris Cummings Critchell learned to fly as a student in the University of Southern California’s first Civilian Pilot Training Program in 1939. During World War II, she served as a Women’s Air Force Service Pilot. After the war, she returned to California where she developed and taught a civilian flight curriculum for veterans at USC. She also helped found the Bates Aeronautics Program at Harvey Mudd College in 1962. Ms. Critchell was a Federal Aviation Administration pilot examiner for more than 20 years and is the recipient of several international aviation awards. Iris Critchell was introduced to the Hall of Fame audience by Brenda Perez, a pilot she had mentored. “I am just one of the many lucky people that were influenced by Iris’s passion and knowledge of aviation and her desire to share it with others,” Perez told the appreciative crowd.

Hall of Fame inductee Iris Cummings Critchell with pilot Brenda Perez

Unfortunately, retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Fitzhugh “Fitz” Fulton died on February 4, 2015 after his Hall of Fame selection already had been announced. Fulton had a distinguished and much-decorated 23-year career as an Air Force pilot following the Second World War and during the Korean War, including 225 C-54 supply flights to Berlin during the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift and 55 combat missions over North Korea. In the course of his long career, Fitz Fulton flew more than 235 different types of aircraft and was an experimental test pilot for the U.S. Air Force, NASA and Scaled Composites, testing every generation of advanced aircraft throughout the entire 20th Century. Fulton was also the pilot on the early tests of the Boeing 747 Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft that was ultimately used to carry NASA’s space shuttles between Vandenburg Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral and he carried the Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise aloft for its first test flights in 1977. Fitz’s daughter, Nancy Fulton, accepted the Hall of Fame medallion on behalf of her father.

Hall of Fame inductee Robert J. “Bob” Gilliland

Another renowned test pilot, Robert J. “Bob” Gilliland, achieved his greatest fame as the first pilot to fly the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the world’s fastest military aircraft. Bob Gilliland graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1949 and then accepted a commission to join the newly created U.S. Air Force and the opportunity to train as a pilot. During the Korean War, he flew the F-84 Thunderjet for a combat tour, then returned to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to become a military test pilot. He joined Lockheed in 1960 as a civilian test pilot for the F-104 Starfighter program. On December 22, 1964, Gilliland was at the controls for the maiden flight of the SR-71 Blackbird and flew the aircraft to Mach 1.5 and 50,000 feet. He continued as the principal test pilot of the SR-71 development program, personally flying every one of the 32 Blackbirds as they became operational. As a result, he logged more supersonic flight test time above Mach 2 and Mach 3 than any other pilot. Actor, journalist and television host David Hartman, who first met Bob Gilliland when he accompanied him on the 2010 Legends of Aerospace tour, introduced the Hall of Fame inductee to the audience.

Hall of Fame inductee Burt Rutan

Burt Rutan is a world-famous aerospace engineer, celebrated for his revolutionary aircraft designs and for creating light, strong, unconventional, energy-efficient aircraft. He has designed 45 aircraft that have flown; the two most famous are the record-breaking Voyager, which became the first plane to circle the globe without stopping or refueling in 1986, and the sub-orbital spaceplane SpaceShipOne, which made the world’s first private manned space flights in 2004. Rutan has five aircraft on display at the National Air and Space Museum. He was introduced by his brother and fellow aviator, Dick Rutan, co-pilot of the Voyager on its celebrated nine-day around-the-world flight.

California Aviation Hall of Fame dinner Master of Ceremonies Nissen Davis

In addition to the four inductees honored at the dinner ceremony, the Hall of Fame also recognized nine “legacy” inductees who helped shape the aviation industry in California. These honored individuals included Pat Hyland, President of Hughes Aircraft; John Joseph Montgomery, glider pioneer; Clifton Moore, known for transforming Los Angeles International Airport; Robert Prescott, founder of the Flying Tiger Line; William Schoneberger, aviation author; Robert Six, founder of Continental Airlines; Bobbi Trout, aviation pioneer and stunt pilot; Willis Hawkins, well-known Lockheed aircraft designer; and Ralph H. Ruud, co-founder of North America Aviation.

Attendees at the 2015 California Hall of Fame Aviation dinner and induction ceremony

The Museum established the California Aviation Hall of Fame two years ago with a mission to commemorate and educate the public about the many individuals who have contributed to the birth and growth of aviation and aerospace in California. Ticket purchases for the event raised funds for the Museum of Flying.