Veterans Airlift Command founder honored

Walter Fricke, the founder, president, and chairman of the Veterans Airlift Command (VAC), received AOPA’s Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award Nov. 6. The Sharples Award is given annually to the private citizen who has demonstrated the greatest selfless commitment to general aviation.

“The story of our Sharples Award winner—and the thousands of other pilots who use their certificates for public benefit—deserves to be told over and over and over again,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “Theirs are the stories that decision makers and opinion leaders need to hear to correct misunderstandings about what GA is and does.”

Walt Fricke is the driving force behind the VAC, which provides free transportation for medical and other compassionate reasons to wounded warriors and their families, using a nationwide network of volunteer pilots.

When wounded warriors return to the United States for treatment, many are hundreds of miles away from family. Others need transportation to ceremonies recognizing their service or to activities that help them regain strength and confidence after a serious injury. The VAC provides them with transportation using a network of volunteer pilots and multi-engine or high-performance single-engine general aviation aircraft. VAC flights allow veterans to travel without the cost, inconvenience, or physical difficulty of a commercial flight and give pilots and aircraft owners a chance to express gratitude to soldiers who have been injured in the line of duty. ( See “A welcome lift for wounded vets”)

“As AirBoss of the Veterans Airlift Command, I am honored to accept this award on behalf of the 1,250 volunteer pilots and aircraft owners who give generously of their aircraft, operating costs, and time,” said Fricke. “We feel privileged and honored to provide ‘hassle free’ air travel to those who have made lifetime sacrifices on our behalf. They’ve got Heart…we give them Wings!

“Thank you, AOPA, for recognizing this important work done by aircraft owners and pilots across the country.”

Fricke is a decorated combat pilot with more than 800 combat hours in Vietnam. He created the VAC because of his own experience as a wounded warrior. During his convalescence, he was hospitalized 700 miles from his family. He says he really began to heal after his family was able to put together the resources to come and visit him in the hospital.

The VAC currently concentrates on veterans of the two current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but hopes to expand its mission as capacity allows.

The Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award is named for one of AOPA’s five founders. It was first presented in 1974. Past recipients have included Paul Poberezny, founder of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Tom Wardleigh, founder of the Alaska Airmen’s Association, and numerous other volunteers and individuals who have stepped up in their local communities to defend the interests of GA.

November 6, 2009