By Alton K. Marsh
You could have stopped the career of Don Lopez, 84, at any point and it would have been a successful one.
If his career had ended as a young man, he would have been known as a World War II fighter ace who challenged a Japanese pilot head-on with no intention of flinching. The Japanese pilot veered just enough to avoid a collision, but his aircraft was destroyed while Lopez was able to limp home, missing part of his wing. Read the “Gallery of Legends” story from AOPA Pilot.
Or you could have said he was an Air Force test pilot.
You could ignore all those things and say he helped plan and open the original Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in 1972, developing the exhibits and writing many of the information plaques you see there today, going on to help plan and open the museum’s newer wing at Virginia’s Washington Dulles International Airport.
At the time of his death he was the museum’s deputy director. He left the post in 1990 and went through a series of advisory and retirement-based titles before returning to the position full-time in 1996.
Or you could just point to his role as a systems engineer on the Apollo-Saturn launch vehicle and the Skylab Orbital Workshop. You could say he helped get the country into space and trained the next generation by teaching at the Air Force Academy.
The truth is, he was all those things.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008