For the past 16 years, the founders of the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame have worked to celebrate Delaware’s place in the history of aviation.
“We’re much more than Dover Air Force Base, or Boeing,” said Brian Woodcock, a Hockessin resident and DAHF trustee and inductee. “Aviation in Delaware dates back to the beginning. It’s important in early history and in modern history.”
“Delaware has a very rich history in aviation,” said DAHF board president Bruce Lambrecht. “Henry du Pont’s pilot’s license was signed by Wilbur Wright.”
During World War II, New Castle County was home to one of only two bases (the other in Texas) where WASPS – Women Airforce Service Pilots – were trained, according to Lambrecht.
The 2016 DAHF inductees:
LaSans Alexander (Dover): Currently employed for the National Guard Bureau at Joint Base Andrews, Alexander is a 34 year Air Traffic Control veteran who served 16 1⁄2 years in the United States Air Force. She continued her career within the Department of Defense.
David Archino (Rehoboth Beach): An Air Force Academy graduate, Col. Archino flew support missions throughout the Pacific, accumulating over 4,000 hours of flying time, including 560 combat hours in Vietnam.
David Ham (Wilmington): Col. Ham served more than 39 years in a variety of positions in aviation with the Delaware National Guard, piloting a wide variety of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. His units received numerous awards for accident free flying and aviation excellence.
Fred T. Johnson (Wilmington): Delaware’s last surviving documented Tuskegee Airman, and the only black commissioned navigator from the State of Delaware. He volunteered for the Army Air corps and the first black teacher at Warner Junior High School.
Thomas Nale (Kennett Square, Pa.): A combat pilot and forward air controller in Korea, Nale flew 20 combat missions in F-84 fighters. A member of the Pennsylvania and Delaware National Guard, he was severely burned in an engine failure crash near Dover.
James Vreeland (Delmar): Vreeland has worked as a flight instructor, crop duster and commercial pilot, flying from the age of 17. He also worked for Piedmont Airlines as captain, check airman and instructor. Vreeland has logged 33,645 hours in 102 different aircraft and has instructed 984 students.
“It goes on and on, the list of contributions Delaware and Delawareans have made to aviation,” he said.
Woodcock said the hall of fame came about as the founders saw a need for a way to recognize these “magnificent men of the air.”
He added that he can personally relate: having grown up in London during the Blitzkrieg, surrounded by – and obsessed with – American GIs, Woodcock went on to become involved with veterans, having met “all of ‘em” in his role as a Douglas MacArthur impersonator.
Since its inception in 2000, 97 people (32 posthumously) have been inducted into the hall of fame, each of them with a different contribution on aviation in a variety of aspects, according to Woodcock.
There have also been 13 Youth Aviation Achievement Award winners, created to recognize young men and women who have distinguished themselves in aviation training, career development, and community aviation activities.
“It’s not just made up of military or combat veterans, although we certainly have plenty of those,” he said. “Many of these people have just had a lifelong career in aviation, but they’ve still contributed to the industry as a whole.”
This year’s inductees include a female air traffic control veteran, a former Tuskegee airman, and a lifelong pilot with over 33,000 hours of flight time under his belt.
Woodcock said that inductees are selected for a body of work in the field of aviation, as much for individuals chosen for distinct reasons.
Inductees are selected from a pool of candidates that DAHF board member Michael Brock said continues to grow every year.
“It’s a difficult decision,” Brock said. “We’re not looking for someone who has just been a pilot, which is enough in anyone’s life. But we want to acknowledge people who have made that significant contribution.”
He added that the hall of fame is much more than a group of people celebrating themselves – it’s a part of Delaware’s history.
“If people could see this as living history, then I think more and more people would be interested in what we’re doing,” he said. “These are people that did things in this state, and they’re still with us “
The 2016 ceremony is Saturday, Oct. 1, at Clayton Hall in Newark.
For tickets, membership, or more information, visit dahf.org.