The Flight Test Historical Foundation hosted its second annual EXCELLENCE IN AVIATION awards event in Los Angeles on May 14, 2011. Three aviation pioneers were honored at the event: In 1962, Robert Gilliland began testing the fastest and highest flying airplanes ever built and became the first pilot to fly the SR-71 Blackbird on December 22, 1964. He has had a long, distinguished career as a test pilot, and has logged over 6500 hours in many aircraft. Mr. Gilliland received an award from the Foundation for ‘Excellence in Flight Test.’; In June 1973, Frank Robinson founded Robinson Helicopter Company in the garage of his Palos Verde home. The company expanded quickly and acquired its own production buildings. By 1979, the company was producing the world’s top selling civilian helicopter, the R22. Many other successful helicopter models followed. Since 1988, Robinson Helicopter Company has manufactured more helicopters than any other manufacturer in the world. Mr. Robinson received an award from the Foundation for ‘Excellence in Aviation Business.’; Jens K. Neelsen, former owner of the Essex House Hotel and Convention Center in Lancaster, and currently Senior Managing Director of CWC Asset Advisors, Inc., San Diego, received a ‘Special Friend of the Foundation’ award for his work in support of the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) Museum at Edwards Air Force Base. In September 1993, Mr. Neelsen volunteered to host the first Flight Test Historical Foundation ‘Gathering of Eagles” fund raising dinner at the Essex House Convention Center to benefit the AFFTC Museum. This marked the beginning of a long, close association between Mr. Neelsen and the Foundation, with him serving first as a Director and ultimately as a Trustee of the Foundation.
Proceeds from the awards event support the capital campaign, kicked off last year, so that the AFFTC Museum can be relocated outside the Rosamond Gate at Edwards. As Lisa Gray, chairperson of the Flight Test Historical Foundation noted, “Moving the museum outside the west gate makes the exciting story of flight test, once again, publicly accessible. The Foundation was established to preserve the aviation history of Edwards Air Force Base by supporting and enhancing the AFFTC Museum. We strive to present that history to the public in a way that encourages and inspires the next generation of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians to pursue the innovations and advances that make our nation great. Our goal in moving the museum is to provide unfettered access to the museum that celebrates the accomplishments of the men and women who have made significant contributions to the advancement of aviation and space flight during their service at Edwards Air Force Base.