AOPA honors the life and legacy of Brig. Gen. Charles McGee through its annual Brigadier General Charles E. McGee Aviation Inspiration Award. The honor is bestowed on the aviator who best lives up to the ideals of McGee and pays it forward for generations to come. McGee, a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen and an American hero, died January 16 at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 102 years old.
The inaugural 2020 McGee award was presented to the general himself during a virtual ceremony (held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic) in February 2021. U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kenyatta (Keny) Ruffin, an F–16 pilot and commander of the 71st Operations Support Squadron, received the second annual award in 2021.
This year’s winner is Glenn Gonzales, a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who developed Jet It, an aircraft ownership company (gojetit.com). The McGee award will be presented to Gonzales during the annual Robert “Bob” Hoover Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on March 23.
By Ian J. Twombly
Advances in aviation are not without risks. Even with modern design tools and proven and strict procedures, things can and do go wrong. Such was the case for Cirrus when it was designing the SR20 in the late 1990s.
The credit for the idea of the whole airframe parachute that Cirrus calls CAPS generally goes to Alan Klapmeier, who insisted on its inclusion after surviving a midair collision earlier in his flying career. And Ballistic Recovery Systems gets the credit for designing and manufacturing the system. But Scott D. Anderson took the risks.
Anderson grew up in Duluth, attended the University of Minnesota and Stanford, spent a stint in Europe playing professional football, and returned home to fly F–16s for the Air National Guard. As one of two key Cirrus test pilots, Anderson flew all seven of the company’s CAPS deployment tests during the certification trials, each successful.
Tragically, Anderson died in an accident while testing a new aileron design in the company’s first production airplane, which unfortunately didn’t yet have a parachute installed. Soon into the flight he radioed Duluth’s tower to say he was having an issue, declared an emergency a few miles from the airport, and crashed shy of the runway. It was March 23, 1999, six months after the aircraft’s certification. Anderson was 33 years old.
Since his passing, Anderson has been inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, and his family administers the Scott D. Anderson Leadership Foundation, a program that takes kids from Duluth and provides them leadership training through a summer study program.
So, while the companies may get the credit for the idea, every time a CAPS is deployed and a life saved, those pilots and passengers can thank the person who took the risks to make it possible.