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What it means to 'throw your hat in the ring'

One hundred years ago, on Aug. 20, 1917, a U.S. Army aero squadron was formed at a Texas airfield. The 94th Aero Squadron would soon be sent to France and go on to see combat on World War I’s western front, its aerial achievements ensuring its place in history as a unit of heroism and renown.

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker poses with an aircraft bearing the emblem of the 94th Aero Squadron. Image courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force via Youtube.

The Nieuport 28 C1 and SPAD XIII fighters flown by the 94th Aero Squadron bore a distinctive insignia: an American flag-motif top hat within a ring.

Several members of the unit that came to be known as the Hat in the Ring Squadron would become air aces, shooting down enemy aircraft including fighters, reconnaissance airplanes, and observation balloons.

The unit’s aces notably included Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s top-scoring World War I ace with 26 victories, who became a recipient of the Medal of Honor and would play an important role in civil aviation as the leader of a U.S. airline.

After the armistice was declared on Nov. 11, 1918, the squadron became a permanent component of the U.S. Army Air Service. The lineage of the modern-day 94th Fighter Squadron that is based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia and flies the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, traces back to the squadron that Rickenbacker and the other aces made famous a century ago.

Inspired by the rich history of the 94th Aero Squadron, its heroes, and their meet-any-challenge spirit, the AOPA Foundation, the charitable arm of AOPA, created The Hat in the Ring Society, a venue for philanthropist-pilots to "throw their hats in the ring" each year with charitable donations between $1,000 and $9,999.

The donations go a long way to help fund AOPA’s You Can Fly program and Air Safety Institute, both of which are 100-percent supported through philanthropic contributions to the AOPA Foundation. The You Can Fly program seeks to engage young people in aviation science, technology, engineering, and math education while they are still in school; support flight training providers; make aviation more affordable and accessible through flying clubs; and help bring lapsed pilots back into aviation.

As the AOPA Foundation’s longest-running philanthropic-giving circle, the Hat in the Ring Society continues to make a significant and lasting difference in general aviation’s future, thanks to its members’ generosity.

Society members enjoy special benefits and are invited to attend events, meetings, and receptions at major aviation gatherings such as the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo in Lakeland, Florida, and EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The society’s honorary co-chairmen include actor/pilots Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Chris Meloni, and Dave Coulier; aviation author Stuart Woods; aerobatic champion Michael Goulian; country music star Dierks Bentley; baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr.; and other notable pilots who share a love of aviation and believe that preserving the freedom to fly is a cause worth fighting for.

The arrival of the 100th anniversary of the 94th Aero Squadron on Aug. 20 is a reminder that it takes a special kind of person to rise to an occasion and commit to making a lasting difference.

If that sounds like the kind of mission you have wanted to take on, to play a role in securing aviation’s future, the AOPA Foundation hopes that you will come on board to help support the work that membership dues alone do not cover—work that can benefit every AOPA member and the entire GA community for many years to come.  For more information, contact Hat in the Ring Society liaison Becky Johnston, or visit the AOPA Foundation's  Hat in the Ring Society web page.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: AOPA Foundation, You Can Fly

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