OKLAHOMA CITY – Last month, millions of people around the world watched Wally Funk spend 11 minutes aboard the New Shepard rocket on a suborbital flight conducted by Blue Origin. Funk became the oldest person in space sixty years after she trained as an astronaut during the Women in Space Program in 1961. She was the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, the first female civilian flight instructor at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and the first female Federal Aviation Agency inspector, as well as one of the Mercury 13. Funk graduated from Oklahoma State University and earned multiple ratings logging over 19,600 hours of flying time while earning multiple awards. Her remarkable achievement was inspired by the legacy of aviators that earned their wings in the state where the motto is Labor Omnia Vincit; labor conquers all things.
The aerospace and aviation industry is conquering many workforce challenges during this time of economic uncertainty supporting 206,000 jobs and nearly $44 billion in annual economic activity making it the state’s second-largest industry. The Aeronautics Commission gave weight to the fight four years ago by helping to install a day in statute to shine a spotlight on the foundation of Oklahoma flight, while giving attention and inspiration to emerging technologies. The state’s Oklahoma State Aviation & Aerospace Day was first celebrated on August 19, 2018, after passage of Senate Bill 47 by Sen. Chris Kidd, R-Waurika, during the 2017 legislative session. The date runs concurrent to National Aviation Day which was originally declared on August 19, 1939, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued a presidential proclamation encouraging citizens to observe the day with activities that promote interest in aviation.
State Director of Aeronautics Grayson Ardies spoke via Zoom to the greater Lawton community regarding the current economic impacts of the state’s airport system, and what the commission is doing to ensure aviation and aerospace will flourish in Oklahoma for decades to come. “Today, all citizens are asked to devote some portion of the state’s Oklahoma Aviation and Aerospace Day to honor the achievements of Oklahomans in aviation and aerospace and the Lawton Fort-Sill Chamber provided a great opportunity for their members to celebrate the industry via their virtual lunch program,” said Ardies.
Ardies was included in the program at the invitation of Dr. Krista Ratliff, who serves as President and CEO of the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce. The chamber asserts a leadership role in the development of increased business and tourism opportunities, the unification of the military and business community, the advancement of a pro-business legislative agenda, and the promotion of community enrichment.
“Aviation has been with the Sooner state since statehood as Clyde Cessna performed test flights of his early aircraft in western Oklahoma and our citizenry is well served by the state's 104 general aviation airports and 4 commercial airports. Of those airports, 45 are jet-capable, meaning they have at least a 5,000-foot runway which is more jet-capable airports per capita than any other state, with 95% of our state's population living within 30 minutes of a jet-capable airport,” said Ardies.
Oklahoma is now recognized as one of the seven centers in the world for the maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft. Oklahoma hosts the world’s largest military aircraft repair facility, Tinker Air Force Base, and commercial aircraft repair facility, the American Airlines maintenance base in Tulsa.
The state is poised for the future of a safe, secure, efficient and progressive aviation and aerospace industry and is dependent on energizing state and national policies, well-informed and educated citizens, a technology proficient workforce, bold pioneering research, ingenuity, perseverance and courage.