On Saturday, December 16, I was privileged to be the speaker for the annual Wright Brothers Anniversary of Flight Dinner for the Phoenix Wing of the American Aviation Historical Society in Phoenix, Arizona. While there, I visited WWII veteran, Ole Griffith. Ole is donating his aviation collection to Wright State University.
Ole introduced me to many aviators, veterans, and plenty of folks who just like flying. Don Gray, volunteer at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, was my guide for the weekend.
My first stop was the Anthem Veterans Memorial. Located in Anthem, Arizona, it is dedicated to honoring the sacrifice and service made by members of the United States Armed Forces. The memorial’s five white pillars represent the nation’s military branches and are arranged in Department of Defense order of precedence: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Each pillar has an elliptical opening that slants downward toward The Great Seal of the United States. On Veterans Day (November 11) the design allows the sun’s rays to spotlight the Great Seal at precisely 11:11 AM.
Our next stop was the Commemorative Air Force Museum at Falcon Field. Captain Billy Walker was our guide. The CAF Museum, Airbase Arizona, is an amazing place! I was honored to be able to climb inside a B-25 (Maid in the Shade), B-17 (Sentimental Journey), and C-47. They even let me sit in the left seat in the C-47! The Commemorative Air Force Museum is a remarkable place with a crew of 500 volunteers whose passion is making these old aircraft flyable. There are 78 units located across the country. The CAF was founded to “acquire, restore and preserve in flying condition a complete collection of combat aircraft which were flown by all military services of the United States, and selected aircraft of other nations, for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations of Americans.”
Another great aviation site near Phoenix is Goodyear Airport in Maricopa County. Ryan Reeves, Airport Coordinator at Buckeye Municipal Airport, was my guide at the Goodyear Airport. He knows just about everything there is to know about its history. It was originally constructed during World War II as a naval air facility known as NAF Litchfield Park, and later renamed Naval Air Station Litchfield Park.
Ryan showed us the many buildings on the airport and told us the history behind the facility. We drove through the airship hangar and walked the boneyard area of the field.
The boneyard is littered with the remnants of thousands of aircraft. Ryan found this seatbelt strap off an old aircraft the day we walked the field.
For the first time ever, I got to fly on December 17, 2017. Thanks, Wil and Orv, for making my flight possible.
I had an amazing trip and learned a great deal about the aviation history of Phoenix. If you are ever in Phoenix, be sure to visit both the Commemorative Air Force at Falcon Field and the Goodyear Airport. My presentation on Saturday night to the Phoenix Wing of the AAHS gave me the opportunity to tell some aviation stories from the great aviation history collections here at Wright State University.
I also got to meet Sergei Sikorsky, son of Igor Sikorsky, aviation pioneer in helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. He autographed this poster for me. Ole Griffith knows everybody!
Thanks, Ole, for introducing me to so many fascinating people who love aviation. Thank you to Don Gray for being my guide and driver in Phoenix, thank you Captain Billy Walker and Ryan Reeves for taking time to teach me more aviation history, and thank you to the Phoenix Wing of the American Aviation Historical Society for inviting me to come to speak to your group.