The Doolittle Raiders Co-Pilot Crew 1B-25B, 40-2344, 34th Bomb Squadron, 17th Bomb Group. From left to right: Col. Potter, Gen. Doolittle, Capt. Braemer, Lt. Col. Cole, and Master Sgt. Leonard. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

As a lasting tribute to the city’s place in aviation and aerospace history, community leaders in San Antonio have established the San Antonio Aviation and Aerospace Hall of Fame, with its inaugural class of inductees to be honored at a dinner on Thursday, March 31.

The Hall of Fame and induction dinner are the results of a collaboration between the Dee Howard Foundation, the Partnership for Corporate Aviation Training, as well as several companies, agencies and organizations at the local, state and national levels. The inductees include eight individuals and institutions that have contributed to San Antonio’s reputation for pioneering in civilian, commercial, military and space flight.

Valero Energy  will host the dinner and ceremony from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in its corporate hangar at 1000 Skylplace Blvd. at the San Antonio International Airport.

Tables or individual tickets are available for purchase here and start at $125 for nonprofits and active-duty military. The event is open to the public.

The inaugural hall of fame class members are Maj. Gen. Benjamin Foulois; Air Education and Training Command at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph; Eddie, Katherine and Marjorie Stinson; Southwest Research Institute ; Durrell “Dee” Howard of the Dee Howard Foundation; Edward “Ed” James Swearingen; Joseph Wilson; and Richard Fessler.

The event will also pay tribute to retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Cole, one of two surviving members from the original 80 Doolittle Raiders who flew during World War II, and the Tuskegee Airmen. An aviation and aerospace exhibit, featuring eight aircraft and one satellite, will be displayed inside the hangar to commemorate the work of the hall of fame inductees.

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Mayor Ivy Taylor will offer opening remarks, and Edward Bolen, president/CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, will give the keynote speech.

Dee Howard, one of the hall of fame inductees, is best known as an inventor who improved aircraft performance through jet engine thrust reversers and refinements in aircraft flight characteristics. Following WWII, he started his own business, Howard Aero Service, that touched the lives of several other hall of fame inductees and impacted the business aircraft industry.

Fellow inductee Ed Swearingen Jr.,who was a pilot and aircraft mechanic, was Howard’s first employee.

Swearingen’s work improved under Howard’s tutelage, and he was eventually noticed by other aviation pioneers around the nation. The Swearingen name became synonymous with state-of-the-art design, development and manufacturing of aircraft programs worldwide. He later founded his own company, Swearingen Aircraft.

Wayne Fagan, a co-founder and chair of the Dee Howard Foundation, also serves as a lead organizer for the hall of fame. During his time working with Howard, Fagan said, he felt like a witness to local aviation history, serving as his personal attorney and as senior vice president/legal counsel for his company.

“I met Dee in 1970 when he had 75 employees and saw it grow until there were over 1,500 employees,” Fagan said. “I got to see all of it unfold. We do have a lot of history.”

The San Antonio Aviation & Aerospace Hall of Fame logo. Photo Courtesy of the Dee Howard Foundation.
The San Antonio Aviation & Aerospace Hall of Fame logo. Photo Courtesy of the Dee Howard Foundation.

The Dee Howard Foundation continues to search for information about aircraft designed or built in San Antonio over the decades so that the individuals and organizations attached to those crafts, too, will be honored in the new local hall of fame.

“We’re doing all we can to honor the history,” Fagan added.

Many firsts in aviation and aerospace exploration have occurred in San Antonio. Foulois, an inductee, conducted the first military flight from Fort Sam Houston in 1910, using the Wright Brothers’ 1909 Flyer.

Marjorie, Katherine, Jack, and Eddie Stinson arrived in 1915 and set up the Stinson School of Flying, an institution that would later become Stinson Field. Today, Stinson Municipal Airport is the nation’s second oldest general aviation airport. Stinson was also home to Hallmark Aero-Tech, a school co-founded by hall of fame inductee Fessler in 1969. Hallmark was the city’s first school for aviation technicians and is now a part of the present-day university known as Hallmark College of Aeronautics.

Early in the 20th century, San Antonio established itself as a primary destination for leaders in U.S. military aviation development. Kelly Field, Brooks Field, and Randolph Field all were established by 1930, and would become fully functional air force bases, employing thousands of uniformed and civilian personnel for decades to follow.

Randolph Field – where institutional inductee Air Education and Training Command is based – was responsible for recruiting, technical training, flight training, and continuing education of airmen. A 1935 movie, “West Point of the Air,” starring Wallace Beery and Robert Young, was filmed and set at Randolph Field (now Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph), dramatizing the heroics of U.S. Army Air Corps training there.

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During World War II, Lackland Air Force Base and San Antonio Municipal (later International) Airport came into being. When it first opened, the airport was used solely as a military facility.

President Kennedy presided over the dedication of the School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base on Nov. 21, 1963, the day before his assassination in Dallas.

Brooks and Southwest Research Institute, an institutional inductee, have contributed to the evolution of the U.S. aviation and aerospace industries, as well as deep space exploration. Engineers and scientists at Southwest Research have been noted for their work designing fuels for propeller-driven airplanes and jet engines, as well as developing systems and components that travel to Mars and beyond.

Though San Antonio has gained the moniker of “Military City, USA” over the years, it has also become a national hub for general aircraft maintenance and overhaul. Major companies in the industry such as Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin have run operations at Kelly Air Force Base (later Port San Antonio).

The continued rise of the local aviation industry inspired the local private and public sectors to team up to form an educational/workforce development pipeline via Alamo Academies. Inductee Joseph Wilson, who retired in 2015, had a leading role with the program and is also noted for his work in community and government relations for Lockheed Martin in San Antonio.

There are at least 80 area individuals and institutions that are eligible for induction to the San Antonio Aviation and Aerospace Hall of Fame, Fagan said. He constantly hears the question: “Why is a local aviation/aerospace hall of fame just now being launched?”

“I get that a lot,” Fagan said, adding that the initiative required full cooperation from 20 private and public sector organizations. The hall of fame partners include: the City, Bexar County, five chambers of commerce, Port San Antonio, present-day Brooks City Base , six aviation-related state and local organizations, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, and three trade/manufacturing advocacy groups.

“I wanted this to be a community initiative to bring together the aviation, business and government communities,” Fagan said. “It’s not just San Antonio doing something for San Antonio. We wanted something with global outreach.”

*Top image: The Doolittle Raiders Co-Pilot Crew 1B-25B, 40-2344, 34th Bomb Squadron, 17th Bomb Group. From left to right: Col. Potter, Gen. Doolittle, Capt. Braemer, Lt. Col. Cole, and Master Sgt. Leonard. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.