24th Annual Wright Brothers Honorees of the Year!

2003 Aerospace Educator of the Year
Alan Schmidt

As a Physics, Chemistry, Science Research and Aviation Instructor at Northeast Magnet High School, Alan Schmidt is this year’s Aerospace Educator of the Year. Long interested in aviation, he has been working aviation-related projects into his class curriculums for many years.

He sponsored such aviation-oriented events as “The Wright Stuff” and “Bottle Rockets” in the Science Olympiad and coached the Junior Academy of Science from 1995 to 2003. In 1999, he supervised a student who went on to win first place at state with a project dealing with aircraft composites. Others have since researched, experimented and presented similar project papers.

Schmidt coordinated student volunteers for the 2002 “Autumn in the Air” festival which celebrated Wichita’s aviation heritage. He was awarded a grant as part of the Read Across America Program sponsored by the National Education Association to purchase books to help students better understand space concepts.

Of great importance were Schmidt’s efforts in developing and receiving approval for a new course, Aviation Science. This course teaches concepts of aerospace engineering. After two years of having largely male enrollees, Schmidt successfully promoted the class and increased the female enrollment to about one-third. In the spring of 2003, the Devore Foundation presented Schmidt the Excellence in Public Service Award in part for the development of an aviation curriculum and involving youth and young women in aviation.

Alan Schmidt is the 2003 Aerospace Educator of the Year.

Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame
William R. (Bill) Snook

When William Robert (Bill) Snook began his career in aviation, there was no such thing as a manufacturing plant or an assembly line in Wichita. With skill and experience, Snook was the first to implement the processes necessary to most efficiently utilize manpower and physical resources in aviation manufacturing.

Born in July of 1896, Snook’s career began while attending Fairmount College in 1919. Snook worked alongside Matty Laird at the E.M. Laird Company to produce the first airplane specifically built for sale in Wichita, a Swallow. This aviation pioneer worked at several manufacturing jobs while building Swallows and contributed significantly to innovative fabrication tools and assembly jigs needed to build airplanes in quantity.

By 1924, Snook left what was then known as the Swallow Airplane Manufacturing Co. to form the Travel Air Company with partners Lloyd Stearman and Walter Beech. Their newly designed plane was a three-place, OX-5 powered biplane utilizing steel tubing along with wood in its construction. As Factory Manager and later General Manager, Snook took this excellent airplane design and led Travel Air into a booming business.

As demand for Travel Air airplanes grew, employment reached a peak of about 800 people. He put into place manufacturing processes to utilize these workers in the most efficient way in the space available. In the late 1920s, Travel Air was the most successful commercial airplane builder in the United States and its planes became the standard of excellence for the industry to follow.

After closing the Travel Air division of Curtis-Wright in 1931, Snook worked briefly for Stearman Aircraft Co. In 1933, he joined Clyde Cessna at Cessna Aircraft where he remained until 1940. There, he served as Plant Manager and instituted efficient methods of building high-quality airplanes. In the early 1940s, Snook established an aviation training program at Oklahoma A&M College (later Oklahoma State University). He ended his aviation career in Quality Control at Boeing, working on B-29s.

Snook is truly an aviation pioneer. As testimony, about 50 Travel Air airplanes are still airworthy some 75 years later.

2003 Kansas Governor’s Aviation Honor Award
Gary M. Adamson

Adamson’s parents were both pilots and introduced their son to aviation at a young age. He followed their example and obtained his private and commercial pilot’s licenses in the late 1950s. He received his instrument rating in 1963. Because his father worked at Cessna, he was allowed to join the Cessna Flying Club.

Cessna introduced the 206 in 1963. It was designed with a large cargo door, allegedly at the suggestion of a Minnesota funeral director. Adamson, along with his friend and brother-in-law Donald Beilman, investigated the air mortuary business. On May 7, 1965, Aviation Services, Inc. was incorporated and on May 15 received FAA certification. Adamson was the manager and principal pilot.

When the mortuary business was slow, however, the men used the Cessna 206 on ambulance flights, for passengers and on cargo charters. It was even used to carry skydivers!

In early 1967, Central Airlines announced it was ending service between Wichita and Salina. Aviation Services assumed the route in April of that year. At that same time, the United States Post Office announced that it would award mail routes to commuter airlines. Aviation Services successfully bid on seven routes. Because the Dodge City to Pueblo, Co. route required a twin-engine aircraft, ASI bought its first Cessna 402.

The postal routes took Aviation Services into western Kansas. By the end of 1969, it was providing passenger service to fourteen western Kansas cities. Aviation Services, Inc. changed its name to Air Midwest, Inc., on May 15, 1969 and became “The Official Flagship Airline of Kansas.”

By the mid-1970s, Adamson sought certification for the airline. On November 26, 1976, Air Midwest became the first carrier to be certified as a commuter airline. The company then expanded into New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma and added fleets of aircraft to accommodate the growing business. Air Transport World named Air Midwest “Commuter/Regional Airline of the Year” in 1982. After building an extensive network of connections with other airlines, Air Midwest was carrying over a million passengers per year in 1986.

Adamson stepped down as president and CEO of Air Midwest in January 1988. He remained chairman of the board and a director until July 12, 1991, when the stockholders agreed that the company become a subsidiary of Mesa Airlines. After retirement from the airline industry, Adamson established and ran the Inn at Willowbend in Wichita until retirement in March of 2002.

2003 Kansas Governor’s Aviation Honor Award
Paul E. “Pete” Illman

Paul E. “Pete” Illman graduated from Harvard with a Bachelor of Science degree in English in 1940. This background no doubt served Illman well in writing the many books and technical manuals on aviation that have been published during a lifetime dedicated to teaching others about flying.

After graduation, he became a member of the Army Air Force where he was an Advanced Twin-engine Instructor and a B-25 Instrument Flight Instructor. He enjoyed a long career with TWA as an administrator of the training department for flight attendants. Following his retirement from TWA in Kansas City, he was self-employed as a management consultant, and spent a great deal of time helping to establish an airline in Saudi Arabia.

Among the many books authored by Illman is the “Pilots Radio Communications Handbook” that gives precise examples of phrasing for pilots struggling with radio communications. Other titles include “The Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge” and “The Pilot’s Air Traffic Control Handbook,” which are still being used in flight schools today.

Illman has been recognized by many in the aviation field and has received a number of awards. These include the Air Medal for instructing excellence during World War II, the 1995 Kansas Pilots Association Member of the Year for efforts beyond the average assignments with the organization, and the 1997 Kansas Pilots Association Founders Award. In 2001, the Kansas Pilots Association launched the Paul E. Illman-Friend of Aviation Award. This is “to be given as appropriate to any person whose dedication and performance significantly helps to promote and protect aviation in our state.”

This Governor’s Award Honoree is a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the U.S. Pilots Association, and an honorary member of the Confederate Air Force. Illman also served on the founding board of the Kansas Aviation Council, a political action resource including member organizations from all facets of Kansas aviation – volunteer and for-profit, manufacturers and enthusiasts.

Some who know “Pete” Illman from his tireless volunteer work for Kansas aviation interests have had his books without realizing that this was the same person as Paul E. Illman, the author. With this award, it is now possible to recognize this internationally known author and Kansas aviation enthusiast for his years of contribution.