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First Flight Society introduces honorary members

Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Rutan, and airshow favorites Sean D. Tucker and Patty Wagstaff will be the first class of honorary members recognized by the group that helped establish the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

The program was launched “to enhance the public visibility of pilots like these who have achieved national recognition in aviation,” a news release noted.

The honorees were chosen for sharing their passion for aviation with others. Their missions parallel the First Flight Society’s cornerstones of highlighting aviation education opportunities, expanding the knowledge of the Wright brothers’ legacy, and providing scholarships to youth.

Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles McGee flies a Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet from Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as part of his 100th birthday celebration in 2019. Photo by David Tulis.

McGee, 101, was one of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew fighter escort for Allied bombers in World War II. He served in three wars and flew 409 combat missions. McGee mentors young people, has participated in Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum programs, and flew two general aviation jets to help celebrate his 100th birthday in 2019. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2011.

Halvorsen, 100, was nicknamed “Berlin Candy Bomber” and “Uncle Wiggly Wings” during the Berlin Airlift. He was the original pilot who helped drop 20 tons of candy to German children from Douglas DC–4 aircraft in 1948 and 1949. His arrival was signaled by a wing wiggle maneuver that alerted youth to the sweet treats.

Rutan, 82, is a fighter pilot, test pilot, and record-breaking aviator who in 1986 piloted the Voyager aircraft on the first nonstop around-the-world flight with co-pilot Jeana Yeager. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2002.

Tucker, 68, co-founded the nonprofit Bob Hoover Academy for at-risk California high school students, has won numerous airshow competitions, and was the 2017 recipient of AOPA’s R.A. “Bob” Hoover Trophy. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2008.

Wagstaff, 69, is a U.S. National Aerobatic Champion and helps teach pilots to become safer aviators through upset recovery and prevention techniques. She was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2004.

Orville and Wilbur Wright made history when they battled a 27-mph ocean breeze in the 605-pound wood-and-fabric Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is adjacent to First Flight Airport, a 3,000-foot-long paved strip that is open during daylight hours.

The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and the adjacent First Flight Airport are bucket-list stops for aviators. Photo by David Tulis.

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