Burt Rutan Wins R.A. “Bob” Hoover Trophy

An award in honor of Brig. Gen. Charles McGee goes to Lt. Col. Kenyatta Ruffin.

Burt Rutan, legendary aircraft designer and thought leader, was honored with the 5th annual AOPA R. A. “Bob” Hoover Trophy.Courtesy David Tulis, AOPA

A touch of inspiration keeps us going when difficult times surround us—so the advent of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association annual awards presented on February 3 via livestream felt like the push forward we all need.

The General Aviation Awards honor select people in the industry who have made major contributions over the course of their careers to key areas within GA. The primary award, named after legendary pilot and pioneer R. A. “Bob” Hoover, was first bestowed upon Hoover prior to his death and is now in its fifth year. The 2021 honoree is aircraft designer, engineer, and thought leader Burt Rutan, whose 49 singular aircraft projects have pushed the envelope in performance, safety, and endurance—even the boundaries of space. Rutan accepted the award, speaking from his home office—which is graced with a gravity-defying bookshelf in a cheeky tip of the hat to the designer’s out-of-the-box solutions to aerodynamic problems. “The most important thing that any aviator can do is to encourage other to learn to fly,” Rutan said. He noted that application of his “Three Cs” was the foundation of his success: Curiosity, Creativity, and Courage.

The debut of the Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee Inspiration Award honored its namesake whose life has been in service to others.Courtesy David Tulis, AOPA

Rutan went on to remark that loss of aircraft control can be almost completely solved by proper design—the main thrust of his life’s work. So, the evening’s tribute to him was in elegant counterpoint to the next award, which went to a pioneer in assisting those pilots who had lost aircraft control for whatever reason. Air Safety Institute Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden honored Ballistic Recovery Systems founder Boris Popov with the GA Safety Award for his life-saving contribution to aviation safety, the ballistic airframe parachute. Popov reported that the company has marked 438 lives saved with airframe chute deployments—and countless lives affected by the device. “It’s a precious tribute to all of the great people who worked hard to create [the device],” said Popov.

Finally, but perhaps most poignantly, AOPA debuted a new award for 2020—and onwards—honoring the contributions of an aviator who has blazed a trail against racism in aviation and has dedicated his life and service to lifting up new pilots. The Brigadier General Charles E. McGee Aviation Inspiration Award first honored its namesake, who accepted it with a reminder of his guiding principles, the “Four Ps”: Perceive, Prepare, Perform, and Persevere. AOPA continued the presentation with the award’s next recipient, US Air Force Lt. Col. Kenyatta Ruffin, commander of the 71st Operations Group at Vance AFB in Enid, Oklahoma, and F-16 pilot and instructor. Ruffin—who has been flying since he took his first discovery flight at age 13—like Brig. Gen. McGee, has dedicated his service to bringing opportunity to young people interested in aviation, through the Legacy Flight Academy. Ruffin took in praise from his fellow pilots, including his supervisor, Col. Erick Turasz, who commented, “Vance AFB & 71st Operations Group are extremely proud of Lt Col Ruffin! Thank you for your hard work & dedication. Vance Proud!”

The first honoree for the Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee Inspiration Award, Lt. Col. Kenyatta Ruffin, founded the Legacy Flight Academy to bring aviation to underserved youth.Courtesy David Tulis, AOPA

To those who inspire elegant aircraft design and safety, such as Rutan and Popov, and to Brig. Gen. McGee, you have been an inspiration to us all—thank you so much from us at Flying. And to Lt. Col. Ruffin, we look forward to supporting you as you shine a light on our future aviators.