AOPA honored general aviation advocates, safety experts, and industry leaders during the R.A. “Bob” Hoover Trophy reception March 22 at Signature Flight Support’s Hangar 7 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Aerobatic and airshow performer Sean D. Tucker emceed the event and dubbed the evening’s winners “heroes of general aviation.”
AOPA bestowed the R.A. “Bob” Hoover Trophy on retired Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). The trophy, which was first presented to Hoover himself in 2016 and carries on his legacy, is “a tribute to aviators whose airmanship, leadership, mentorship, and passion for aviation inspire a love of flight in others.”
“If you look at the past winners of the Hoover Trophy, you will notice a few common traits with Bob—leadership, inspiration, giving, adventure, and breaking barriers. This year’s winner has no shortage of those important traits and has truly embodied the spirit of aiming high,” AOPA President Mark Baker said of Inhofe.
In 1991, he retraced Wiley Post’s 1931 circumnavigation, making him the first member of Congress and only senator to have flown around the world.
The legislation that he introduced and championed has had an impact on every pilot flying today. He supported the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1993 to bring about a renaissance of GA manufacturing. Inhofe introduced the “Hoover Bill” in 1999 to allow FAA certificate holders to appeal immediate revocations of their certificates to the National Transportation Safety Board—this measure came in response to the FAA’s immediate revocation of Hoover’s medical certificate without cause. He also fought GA user fees and air traffic control privatization; led the Pilot’s Bill of Rights; supported third class medical reform, creating BasicMed; extended the Volunteer Protection Act to volunteer pilots; worked to reduce checkride wait times with designated pilot examiners; supported aviation STEM curriculum in schools; and required development of a system to bring real-time status of special-use airspace into cockpits. Inhofe also led the move to establish the National Center for the Advancement of Aviation Act (NCAA) to address the aviation workforce shortage. He has also supported private-sector efforts to develop an unleaded fuel.
“I could always count on him. I always knew he was going to be advocating for aviation, in particular general aviation in the Senate, and I always had an ally,” said Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, during an interview about Inhofe receiving the Hoover trophy.
During his 36-year career on Capitol Hill, retired Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), always advocated for GA, even though he isn’t a pilot. AOPA honored him with the Joseph B. “Doc” Hartranft Award, named for our first president. The award is given each year “to elected or appointed government officials for their significant contributions to the advancement of GA.”
While announcing DeFazio as the winner, Baker said that leaders like the representative “allow us to pursue this wonderful passion that we all cherish and share.”
“He knows just how important aviation is, and he knows how important general aviation is,” Graves said of DeFazio during an interview about his being honored with the Hartranft award. DeFazio served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee his entire career. He became chairman of the committee in 2019, and also served as chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee.
DeFazio was a founding member of the General Aviation Caucus because “there was and has been not enough focus on general aviation,” he said. He supported the effort to establish the NCAA in the House, supported third class medical reform, and opposed GA user fees and ATC privatization.
Mike Dale, former president of Jaguar Cars and chairman of the Culpeper Airport Advisory Committee, was honored with the Sharples Award, named for Laurence P. Sharples, our first chairman of the board. The award “is given to those who may not work directly in aviation but who have made extraordinary contributions to GA.”
Dale breathed new life into the Culpeper Regional Airport in northern Virginia. He convinced Culpeper County officials to build new hangars and repeal the property tax on aircraft, which attracted more aircraft to base at the airport.
Former Culpeper County Administrator Frank Bossio said Dale “made the business plan super viable by looking at it from the guy who was the CEO of a real company who had to sign real checks and real paychecks every week.”
He grew the airport airshow’s attendance to more than 5,000 and organized businesses to lead hands-on STEM activities at the airport.
“He’s a great leader, he’s a great human being, and a great friend, and I can’t think of anybody better to get this award than Mike Dale,” Bossio said when asked about Dale’s experience leading to this award.
The 99th Squadron Inc. founder Ramone Hemphill received the Brigadier General Charles E. McGee Aviation Inspiration Award. The award is given “to an individual who, like General McGee, persevered to overcome challenges en route to learning to fly while inspiring others along the way” and demonstrates “leadership in aviation and showcase[s] the opportunities in aviation to youth and young adults.”
The nonprofit organization, named for “the famed Black unit that included pilots from the Tuskegee Institute training program,” is based at Valkaria Airport in Brevard County, Florida, and Hemphill works to make youth, particularly those of color, in the county aware of the airport and aviation as a career opportunity.
“What I’d like is for it to grow in terms of actual pipelines into more of a workforce development thing, whether it’s generating more pilots, whether it’s generating more folks when it comes to aircraft mechanics getting A&Ps, air traffic control. We’re trying to really, really fully establish those avenues. That’s the biggest thing we could ask for is for our cohort of students as they graduate from high school for them to have a path forward if that’s what they want in the aerospace industry,” Hemphill said of the program.
AOPA Air Safety Institute Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden presented the GA Safety Award to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association for delivering “exceptional safety contributions for those of us in the air and on the ground.”
NATCA helps break down pilot/controller barriers by developing safety materials; fostering a safe, collaborative aviation culture; and supporting training programs “that advance pilot knowledge and skills and enhance controller knowledge of general aviation aircraft performance characteristics,” according to a video overview of the association that was played during the reception.
Each day, NATCA controllers and specialists are responsible for coordinating more than 70,000 flights in U.S. airspace, the busiest, most complex airspace in the world. Controllers also assist pilots in distress to help them work through weather problems, mechanical issues, and other situations to help them get safely to their destination or find another suitable landing area.
AOPA Senior Vice President of the AOPA Foundation Elizabeth Tennyson presented the inaugural Future of Flight Award to Textron and its CEO, Scott Donnelly. The award “recognizes outstanding dedication to strengthening aviation in all its forms.”
The Textron family of businesses comprises Bell, Textron Aviation, Textron eAviation, Industrial, Textron Systems, and Finance, and includes recognizable brands such as Bell, Cessna, and Beechcraft. The company invests in its workforce and offers internships and co-ops as well as leadership development programs.
Textron made a $1 million commitment to the AOPA Foundation in 2022 to support the You Can Fly High School Aviation STEM Curriculum.
“Their tremendous support of programs like You Can Fly showcases their commitment to helping the next generation discover the incredible opportunities available in aviation and aerospace and ensures more people have the chance to experience the excitement of our industry,” Tennyson said.
The AOPA Foundation You Can Fly programs and initiatives are designed to get more people flying and keep them flying through introducing high school students to aviation careers, improving flight training, making flying more accessible through flying clubs, and helping lapsed pilots get back in the left seat as pilot in command.
The recipients of all these prestigious awards embody AOPA’s mission to protect the freedom to fly.