The U.S. Air Force’s new secretary, confirmed May 8 in a 76-to-22 Senate vote, is a Cessna 152 pilot. Reuters reported that Heather Wilson, 56, is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a former Rhodes Scholar.
Wilson’s grandfather George “Scotty” Wilson was one of the Civil Air Patrol’s founding members, according to an online article posted by the group.
“He and I were always pretty close,” she told the Civil Air Patrol during an interview, recalling how the elder Wilson reacted when, as a 17-year-old, she declared that she would attend one of the first coed classes at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
The article stated that Wilson’s father was also an aviator, and she told the Civil Air Patrol publication that she remembered her father’s “experimental open-cockpit biplane hanging from the ceiling” of their home in Keene. Wilson’s father died in a car accident when she was 7 years old.
As an adult, Wilson resettled in New Mexico and went on to become the first Republican female to represent that state in the U.S. House of Representatives. The instrument-rated private pilot served in in the House from 1998 to 2009, and during that time she was a member of the Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee.
Before her appointment to the U.S. Air Force post by President Donald Trump's administration, Wilson served as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. During her leadership role at the university, Wilson was praised for her commitment to science technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts and for thinking outside the box to advance students in higher education.
For example, she teamed up with football rival Black Hills State University and its president Tom Jackson, a Grumman Cheetah pilot, to brainstorm how students could engineer a low-cost Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) solution for general aviation aircraft. Wilson was recognized by South Dakota’s Rapid City Economic Development Partnership as someone who understood the college’s connection to its community. “She gets it, and it will be tough to fill her shoes,” the partnership’s Ben Snow told the university.