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Alaska safety advocate Tom Wardleigh diesAlaska safety advocate Tom Wardleigh dies

Alaska safety advocate Tom Wardleigh dies

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Tom Wardleigh shared cockpit duties with Phil Boyer during a 1999 Pilot Town Meeting trip to Alaska.

Alaska aviation legend Tom Wardleigh died Wednesday, July 7, at the age of 78.

"Tom was the personification of flying in Alaska," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "No one knew more about flying in the rugged 49th state, and no one was more devoted to improving aviation and aviation safety. He was a man of quiet and courtly determination, a friend and teacher to all aviators.

"Tom was the first person I met on my first trip to Alaska, and he introduced me to every aspect of Alaskan aviation," Boyer said. "Together we flew from Barrow to Kodiak and countless communities in between. Tom had a story for every one of them, and he used those stories to convey a safety message," said Boyer.

Wardleigh was known to generations of pilots for his safety programs addressing the unique weather, geography, and flying conditions in Alaska. He became chairman of the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation in 1984 after retiring from 24 years of service with the FAA. His weekly TV aviation safety program, Hangar Flying, was "must viewing" for aviators in more than 260 communities. Wardleigh did more than 1,000 episodes of Hangar Flying. Earlier this year, AOPA gave a grant to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks to archive all of the programs to DVD so that future aviators can learn from Wardleigh's timeless wisdom.

A former Pan Am mechanic and World War II Navy aviation machinist, Wardleigh worked at Kenmore Air Harbor in Seattle before moving to Alaska in 1951 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There he assembled and maintained a fleet of Grumman seaplanes acquired from the Navy and kept them in operation for decades monitoring wildlife preservation throughout the state.

Later, he transferred to the Civil Aeronautics Administration (later to become the FAA) where he was involved in numerous aeronautical systems and safety enhancements for Alaska aviation.

He received AOPA's Laurence P. Sharples Award in 1994 for his lifetime of service to aviation safety and to Alaska's general aviation pilots. He was especially recognized for his role in doggedly resisting the closure of local flight service stations in Alaska.

He was instrumental in helping to develop the FAA's Capstone program to demonstrate how GPS, datalink, and ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) technologies could be used to improve general aviation utility and safety.

Randy Kenagy, AOPA's director of advanced technology, worked with Wardleigh on the Capstone project for the past five years. "When an aviator dies of natural causes in Alaska, particularly at such a late age, you know this was a pilot worth modeling your own skills after," said Kenagy.

In 2003, FAA honored Wardleigh with one of the most significant awards in U.S. civil aviation, the Award for Distinguished Service. Said Patrick Poe, FAA regional administrator for Alaska, "Mr. Wardleigh was a tireless advocate for aviation in Alaska. He took on challenges wherever he found them, never gave ground on the issues in which he believed, and never gave offense by his conduct or demeanor. He was a true gentleman, a great champion of safety, and friend to all who love aviation. He will be missed."

July 8, 2004

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