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Remembering aviators who died during 2021

AOPA honors 17 exceptional aviators—including one of our own—who made major contributions to the general aviation world before they died during 2021.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Robert "Bob" Vaucher, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress pilot who led a massive show of force flyover during Japan's 1945 surrender ceremony, is shown at the navigator station aboard the Boeing B-29 "Doc." Vaucher was 102 when he died February 7. Photo by David Tulis.

Tuskegee Airman Richard Hall Jr.

Tuskegee Airman Richard Hall Jr. was remembered by his friends as a “humble person, a servant, and a true patriot,” the Orlando Sentinel reported upon his death in Florida on January 25 at age 97. After serving with the Black airmen during World War II, Hall went on to a 30-year military career that included deployments to North Africa, Italy, and the South Pacific.

WASP Bernice ‘Bee’ Haydu

Bernice “Bee” Falk Haydu, 100, died January 30. Haydu was a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the women’s cadre of pilots who served during World War II. Her death was announced February 1 on the National WASP WWII Museum Facebook page. “Bee, who earned her nickname because she flew like a bumblebee, was an inspiration to all in the aviation community. She touched our lives and we are grateful for all the memories,” the museum said. In June 2020, members of the International Organization of Women Pilots (The Ninety-Nines) arranged a celebratory flyover of her residence in Palm City, Florida.

B–29 pilot Thomas Robert ‘Bob’ Vaucher

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Robert “Bob” Vaucher organized and led a massive Boeing B–29 Superfortress flyover of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, during a signing ceremony documenting Japan’s World War II surrender. The decorated war veteran and GA pilot was 102 when he died at his New Jersey home February 7. His intimate relationship with the four-engine bomber began when he delivered the first one to the armed forces from Boeing’s Pratt, Kansas, factory at age 24 in 1943. It culminated at age 101 when Vaucher supervised pilots from the navigator’s station during an honorary flight aboard the restored B–29 Doc on September 25, 2020.

Vaucher served as the honorary air boss for the Arsenal of Democracy warbird flyover of the nation’s capital in honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of World War II in the European theater before the mission was scrubbed for weather.

AOPA Technical Editor Mike Collins

AOPA Technical Editor and Director of Business Operations Mike Collins died February 25 from COVID-19. He was 59. The instrument-rated private pilot was remembered by the aviation community as outgoing, affable, and helpful to the people he met, whether it was on assignment, in the community, or at the local craft brewpub.

The longtime photojournalist who started an aviation publication called the Southern Aviator after leaving the newspaper business had a knack for exploring the envelope of journalism—whether it was audio, video, writing, or a combination of all three.

He delivered countless seminars, talks, and webinars on the technicalities of equipping aircraft with ADS-B technology in the runup to the January 1, 2020, equipage deadline. One of his favorite flying assignments was documenting an around-the-world trip with friend Mike Laver in a Mitsubishi MU–2, during the aircraft model’s fiftieth anniversary. Collins was identifiable to the airshow and fly-in crowd by his floppy hat, photographer’s vest, and willingness to arrive early and stay late to make sure the best of the day’s work was compiled on deadline for publication.

Aircraft manufacturer Olivier Dassault

Record-setting French pilot, politician, and publisher Olivier Dassault, a grandson of Dassault Group founder Marcel Dassault, died in a helicopter accident near Normandy, France, March 7. He was 69. Dassault graduated from the country’s Air Force Academy and went on to set several records recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. They included world speed records from New York to Paris in a Dassault Falcon 50 (1977); New Orleans to Paris in a Dassault Falcon 900 (1987); Paris to Abu Dhabi in a Falcon 900EX (1996); and Paris to Singapore in a Falcon 900EX (1996). He also had interests in music and photography, and earned a doctorate in business management.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that Dassault “was loved in France” and said his death was “a great loss” for the country.

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins

NASA astronaut, former Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum director, and National Aviation Hall of Fame member Michael Collins died April 28 at age 90.

The National Aviation Hall of Fame inductee piloted the Apollo 11 Command Module that dispatched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the lunar surface July 16, 1969. He orbited above the Sea of Tranquility and maneuvered for a rendezvous with the Eagle explorer before skillfully reentering Earth’s atmosphere and marking a spot in history books for all of humanity.

After he left the space agency, Collins ushered in the opening of the National Air and Space Museum on July 1, 1976, as the popular facility’s first director. He speculated during a 2016 video presentation that getting the museum off the ground might have been even harder than his space duties. Collins regaled GA pilots with his stories from space during an EAA AirVenture appearance in 2019 that recalled the fiftieth anniversary of that moon mission.

Aviation neurologist John Daniel ‘Jack’ Hastings

The aerospace medicine community said goodbye to one of the true pioneer advocates for GA with the April 28 death of Dr. John Hastings in Jacksonville, Florida. He was 80.

Hastings was for decades the “go to” international specialist in aviation neurology. AOPA Pilot Information Center Medical Certification Director Gary Crump remembered Hastings as a “tireless advocate for medical certification reform.” He battled with the FAA his entire career for more flexibility and relaxation of medical certification policy for GA pilots.

Hastings was a fellow and past president of the Aerospace Medical Association; was a past president, fellow, and emeritus Board of Trustees member of the Civil Aviation Medical Association; and served for many years as chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association Aeromedical Advisory Committee, as well as numerous other distinguished leadership roles in the aerospace medicine community.

Attorney and aviator F. Lee Bailey

Most Americans remember F. Lee Bailey as the renowned criminal defense attorney who O.J. Simpson gain an acquittal and who was responsible for securing the release Sam Shepherd, the physician convicted of killing his wife. But to pilots, Bailey is best known for his role in helping famed aerobatic pilot R.A. “Bob” Hoover fight the FAA’s emergency revocation of his medical certificate, and for developing the Bailey Bullet, a highly modified Piper Twin Comanche, and the Hoover Hornet, a modified Rockwell Shrike. Bailey, with a group of investors, also owned the Enstrom Helicopter Corp. from 1971 to 1979.

The inspired barrister, pilot, and entrepreneur died June 3 at age 87, according to numerous news sources. He reportedly died at a hospice center in the Atlanta area.

Gleim Publications founder Irvin Gleim

Irvin Gleim, founder of Gleim Publications, died July 14. He was 78. He was known in aviation as the force behind Gleim Publications and the company’s ever-present test preparation study materials. He and his wife, Darlene, started Gleim Publications in 1974, writing test prep materials in their kitchen, and using the garage as a warehouse. A leader in the field, Gleim’s approach was to give the student only the most necessary information in order to pass the test, and thousands of students owe their perfect scores on FAA knowledge tests to his efficient approach.

Although aviation was his passion, Gleim was an accountant by profession. He earned a Ph.D. in accounting from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and later became a full professor at the Fisher School of Accounting at the University of Florida. Mentoring students in the classroom, and later through his study materials, was his life’s calling.

Airshow pilot Dale Snodgrass

Airshow performer and former U.S. Navy fighter pilot Dale Snodgrass, known around aviation as “the real Top Gun,” was killed in a crash on takeoff of a single-engine airplane at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport in Idaho on July 24, according to news reports.

Snodgrass, whose Navy call sign as a Grumman F–14 Tomcat pilot was “Snort,” was the only person aboard the SIAI-Marchetti SM.1019 aircraft when the accident occurred.

Geico Skytyper Andy Travnicek

The Great Pocono Raceway Airshow confirmed “with heavy hearts” the death August 20 of Geico Skytypers Air Show Team pilot Andy Travnicek, 50, who was killed near Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pennsylvania, after a takeoff accident in a North American SNJ–2 warbird during a practice flight for the show.

The Long Pond, Pennsylvania, raceway recognized Travnicek as “a member of our airshow family” and held a moment of silence for the No. 3. left-wing pilot. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team offered a “toast” on Facebook to the Air Force Academy graduate and said he was a “phenomenal pilot and friend.”

Air Race Classic competitor Elaine Roehrig

Air Race Classic winner, master pilot, and renowned flight instructor Elaine C. Roehrig will be remembered for her dedication to GA and her contributions to aviation safety. Roehrig, 99, who was born in Canajoharie, New York, in 1921, died August 22. She had accumulated more than 15,000 hours of logged flight before retiring from flight instruction in 2018.

Between 1987 and 2010 Roehrig participated in the transcontinental Air Race Classic proficiency contest 20 times, flying with teammate and former student Marolyn Wilson. They competed in Roehrig’s 1965 Piper Cherokee and earned five Top-10 places and two wins—in 2003 and 2004.

At age 16, although Roehrig was too young for college or World War II military service, she worked as an aircraft spotter, air raid warden, and ambulance driver and mechanic. In 1943 she took an introductory flight and was so enthralled that she worked three jobs to pay for flying lessons.

Aircraft engineer, philanthropist James Raisbeck

Seattle-based commercial and GA aircraft engineer, Robertson STOL pioneer, and philanthropist James Raisbeck was remembered by industry leaders for his significant aviation achievements, generosity, and continual dedication to education, after he died at age 84 on August 31. Museum of Flight President Matt Hayes said Raisbeck was a “hard-charging aerodynamicist who possessed a comprehensive understanding of the interaction between technological and economic implications in airplane design.”

Raisbeck Aviation High School—located across the street from the museum and adjacent to Boeing Field in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila—was named in Raisbeck’s honor in 2013.

He performed pioneering work with Robertson STOL (short takeoff and landing) design modifications for single- and twin-engine Cessnas and Pipers and founded Raisbeck Engineering in 1973. Raisbeck helped design systems for the Rockwell International Sabreliner 65-series, improved the wings on the Learjet aircraft family, and designed enhancements for Raytheon's line of Beechcraft King Air turboprops.

Seaplane pioneer Julian Jordan ‘JJ’ Frey

Pilot and business leader Julian Jordan “JJ” Frey Jr., who helped put GA on floats and wrote a definitive guide to seaplane flying, died October 6 at age 89.

He published a 65-page guide to seaplane flying in 1972 that, while out of print, remains required reading for college students at Western Michigan University.

"JJ was a great friend to all. Whether he was sharing wild tales of his seaplane adventures or providing wisdom on the art of float flying—he wrote How to Fly Floats, the definitive book on seaplane flying that has sold more than a quarter-million copies—our lives were enriched by his presence," the Seaplane Pilots Association said in a statement about the loss of "a seaplane legend." Frey served in various roles including president and chairman of the board throughout the seaplane group's 49-year history.

He spent his career working for Edo Aircraft Corp., where he rose through the ranks to lead the firm's seaplane division. Frey continued to support the products Edo had created decades after he had retired from the company, which sold designs and production rights to Kenmore Air in the 1980s.

‘Flying Farmer’ Charles Kulp

Charles A. “Charlie” Kulp, a seasoned pilot who camouflaged his considerable aviation skills behind the bumbling Flying Farmer airshow routine where he “accidentally” took off, learned how to fly, and then miraculously landed a wayward 65-horsepower Piper J–3 Cub, died October 17 at age 96.

The bearded, bespectacled Kulp spent the better part of four decades in a straw hat and denim overalls perfecting the act. His performances typically began with Kulp sauntering up to a parked aircraft before beating it with a stick, bear-hugging the vertical stabilizer, then jumping into it and taxiing away—seemingly out of control—while the “real pilot” chased after him.

The founding member of the Flying Circus Airshow performed in the taildragger more than 800 times during airshows that took him from his Bealeton, Virginia, home base to EAA AirVenture’s grand stage in Wisconsin, the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo in Florida, the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in New York, and multitudes of small airfields throughout the United States. Kulp averaged 36 slow-speed, low-level, cross-controlled aerobatic performances a year until he hung up his overalls in 2008.

CubCrafters founder Jim Richmond

CubCrafters founder and backcountry aircraft innovator Jim Richmond began modernizing the iconic Piper Super Cub in 1980, launching CubCrafters the same year. As an innovative engineer and A&P mechanic, Richmond believed the Super Cub was capable of so much more than what Piper had originally intended and he found new ways to breathe new life into the vintage airframe. Richmond died November 21 at the age of 67.

In 2004, Richmond introduced CubCrafters’ first certified aircraft—what the company dubbed a "modern iteration of the Super Cub" known as the Top Cub. Since then, around 1,500 airplanes, including seven variants of the modern-day Super Cub, have redefined what it means to be a Cub pilot. One variant in particular—a nosewheel, tailwheel convertible XCub—has made the backcountry accessible to more pilots.

“CubCrafters is truly a family. Our employees, customers, and affiliates all feel Jim’s loss,” said Pat Horgan, current company president and CEO.

MyGoFlight CEO Charlie Schneider

MyGoFlight CEO Charlie Schneider has died following the December 16 crash of a Cirrus SR22. Early reports indicate that the Cirrus was on approach to McGhee-Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tennessee, when it encountered difficulty. The CAPS ballistic parachute was deployed, but the airplane crashed and was destroyed by fire. Schneider died after being taken to a hospital.

Schneider, a pilot and software engineer, established MyGoFlight Products and the company has been selling innovative, high-quality lines of merchandise for GA airplanes for several years. These include power systems, cockpit mounts, luggage, flight bags, iPad cooling systems, and most recently, the company’s SkyDisplay Head-Up Display. The SkyDisplay, intended for piston and light turbine singles and twins, earned FAA supplemental type certificate approval in June.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Senior Photographer
Senior Photographer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: People

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