The Wichita Aero Club gala on January 21 was a magical evening under the wings of Doc, the B-29 bomber jewel that calls Wichita home. A little rain and the Kansas City Chiefs playoff game didn’t stop a crowd of more than 250 people from celebrating Dr. John Tomblin, the 2022 WAC Trophy winner. 

Tomblin is the Senior Vice President, Industry and Defense Programs; Executive Director, National Institute for Aviation Research; and Sam Bloomfield Distinguished Professor of Aerospace Engineering for Wichita State University. As WAC board chair and trophy selection chair, I had the honor of emceeing the event alongside Club President Nicole Alexander.

Aviation, aerospace and community leaders gathered to congratulate Tomblin on the monumental impact he’s had on Wichita. He is a true force for innovation in the Air Capital. The nomination for his award is an excellent summation of his efforts on behalf of our city and state:

By believing in the abilities of Wichita State University to deliver the best aviation research directly to industry, provide real-world experience through students in applied learning programs, and find opportunities to grow the university’s work in defense and MRO, Dr. John Tomblin is a key driver in the momentum the University, the community and the state have in delivering real-world solutions which are growing our economy and the Air Capital’s visibility as the world’s most capable aviation ecosystem. Dr. John Tomblin, through his innovative efforts with WSU-NIAR, has placed the City of Wichita on top of an international map of aviation research, engineering and development.

Dr. John Tomblin Honored at Wichita Aero Club Trophy Gala

Respected by Fellow Leaders

Introducing Tomblin at the event were Dr. Rick Muma, Wichita State University President, and John O’Leary, Airbus Americas Vice President of Engineering/Programs. O’Leary is a past WAC trophy honoree and past WAC board chair. U.S. Senator Jerry Moran also provided a video message to congratulate Tomblin.

“Such an important part of our community is NIAR and Dr. Tomblin. We’ve worked hard to bring new business to Wichita. Greater opportunities for our aircraft and aviation industry. None of that works in the absence of the capabilities that Dr. Tomblin has created with his team at NIAR,” said Moran. “The technology that is being developed, the research that’s being done, means that defense officials, space companies, general aviation, commercial aviation all care about Wichita and Kansas because of the opportunities that NIAR creates for our businesses and our industries in Kansas to be at the very forefront of the latest research, science and technology.”

“Instead of extravagance, John’s hard work and professional reputation for success has funded valuable research that promotes digital transformation, supports our aviation and manufacturing industries, and provides unparalleled applied learning opportunities for our students,” said Muma. “I don’t think I’m being at all dramatic when I state that John Tomblin has changed the face of Wichita State and exponentially increased the impact that we have on our community, our state, and our entire country.” 

“The passion of John’s organization is inspired by John’s leadership. John is high-energy, he is smart, ambitious, aggressive, and determined, and he demonstrates unwavering resolve. However, he is also incredibly humble, very self-aware, kind, giving and interested in you,” remarked O’Leary. “John has that unique balance of willpower and determination and deep caring for people. It is this balance that empowers the organization.”            

Dr. John Tomblin was honored at Wichita Aero Club Gala
Dr. John Tomblin and members of the NIAR team Photo credit: Lindsay Williams | VMG LLC

Honored and Thankful

Tomblin gave a brief acceptance speech with three key points: Honored. Thankful. Guilty. While this doesn’t do him justice he essentially said he was honored to receive the award and be in such distinguished company with the past recipients. Thankful for the support of the university, the team and his wife. Guilty for having such a fun and rewarding career.

May we all feel like him at some point in our lives.

Recognizing Tony Mazzolini

During the event, the National Aeronautic Association presented Tony Mazzolini with the Wesley L. McDonald Distinguished Statesman of Aviation Award. Mazzolini was awarded for demonstrating leadership and perseverance in securing and restoring Doc, the iconic B-29 aircraft as a tribute to the patriots whose commitment and sacrifice contributed to the preservation of freedom and peace during World War II and beyond. Mazzolini joins other Distinguished Statesmen and Stateswomen of Aviation with ties to Wichita including Dwane Wallace, Clay Lacy, Olive Ann Beech, Jack Pelton and Dave Franson.

Dr. Rick Muma, Wichita State University President; Dr. John Tomblin, 2022 Trophy recipient; Ashley Bowen Cook, WAC Board Chair, Trophy Committee Chair and Greteman Group Vice President; Nicole Alexander, WAC President; John O’Leary, Airbus Americas Vice President of Engineering/Programs.
Dr. Rick Muma, Wichita State University President; Dr. John Tomblin, 2022 Trophy recipient; Ashley Bowen Cook, WAC Board Chair, Trophy Committee Chair and Greteman Group Vice President; Nicole Alexander, WAC President; John O’Leary, Airbus Americas Vice President of Engineering/Programs

About the WAC Gala

The WAC trophy is awarded each year to a living person or organization with a strong relationship to the greater Wichita area, with exemplary achievements and contributions in the field of aviation and/or aerospace. The gala is an opportunity to publicly celebrate the trophy recipient and raise money for the scholarship fund. The event raised approximately $10,000 for STEAM initiatives.

WAC Recipients

The complete list of previous winners starting in 2010 include: Velma Wallace; Jeff Turner; John O’Leary; Russ Meyer; Al Higdon; Doc’s Friends and Volunteers; Paul Bowen, Lynn Nichols, Jack Pelton, Clay Lacy and Ron Ryan.

Photo credit: Lindsay Williams | VMG LLC