The 2024 Wichita Aero Club gala brought more than 300 national, state and local officials plus aviation industry leadership together to honor U.S. Senator Jerry Moran and all he has done for Kansas to keep us The Air Capital of the World.

Set under the wings of Doc, the restored B-29 bomber, the evening kicked off with patriotic flair as McConnell Air Force Base Honor Guard gave the presentation of the colors followed by the national anthem. As WAC board chair and trophy selection chair, I had the honor of emceeing the event alongside Club President Nicole Alexander.

Honoring Those Gone Too Soon

We opened the evening by honoring two long-time Wichita journalists – Jerry Siebenmark with Aviation International News and Daniel McCoy with the Wichita Business Journal, who both passed away in 2023. Jerry and Daniel covered Wichita’s aviation industry, including many of the companies represented at the event, with integrity and skill.

Molly McMillin, board member, award-winning aviation journalist and editor-in-chief of The Weekly of Business Aviation, reflected on their contributions and their passion for aviation.

In Molly’s words “Jerry Siebenmark and Daniel McCoy covered the vibrant aviation industry both locally and throughout the world. They were passionate about all things aviation and their work bringing fair and accurate news and analysis to their readers. Jerry and Daniel passed away much too soon and at the height of their careers in aviation journalism. They were dedicated husbands, fathers and friends. We are poorer without their presence.”

National Aviation Hall of Fame

Aimee Maruyama, president and CEO, National Aviation Hall of Fame and Jim Cooling, National Aviation Hall of Fame board chair were in attendance to present Sen. Moran with the Congressional Leadership Award.

National Aviation Hall of Fame Congressional Leadership Award Presentation (L to R): Aimee Maruyama, President and CEO, National Aviation Hall of Fame; Ed Bolen, President and CEO, National Business Aviation Association; U.S. Senator Jerry Moran; Pete Bunce, President and CEO, General Aviation Manufacturers Association; Jim Cooling, Board Chair, National Aviation Hall of Fame.

A Champion for Aerospace

Dr. John Tomblin, Wichita State University senior VP for Industry and Defense Programs, NIAR executive director, 2022 WAC trophy recipient, works closely with Sen. Moran and provided an introduction. “Not only has he provided tireless support for Wichita State University and NIAR, but on a grander scale, his commitment to the strength of our nation’s aerospace industry has led to monumental growth and development for Wichita, Kansas, and the nation.

“Through his seat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation and Appropriations Committees, the Senator has forged meaningful connections with leaders in the Department of Defense and global aerospace industry. And he shamelessly leverages these important connections to increase visibility and knowledge of the unique size, strength, capabilities and expertise of the Wichita and Kansas aerospace industry.”

He went on to say, “Sen. Moran is a visionary. He has the incredible ability to maximize current opportunities while continuing to create new ones for the future. Most recently, he helped Wichita secure a direct flight to Washington D.C. He continues to identify and successfully pursue opportunities to diversify the aerospace industry and strengthen our already robust supply chain. He recognizes how investments in workforce development fuel future growth. He understands our community’s capacity to globally compete in the next frontier of space. Sen. Moran is a champion for aerospace, for Wichita, and for all of Kansas.”

Rather than a traditional speech given by the trophy recipient, Sen. Moran had a fireside chat with Dr. Tomblin and Lynn Nichols, retired chairman and CEO, board member of Yingling Aviation and 2017 WAC trophy recipient. A truly enjoyable experience for the crowd. The proverbial cherry on top of the evening was that the event raised $50,000 in proceeds for STEAM initiatives within the community.

L to R: U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, Lynn Nichols and Dr. John Tomblin during the fireside chat.

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.

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, Ron Ryan, and Dr. John Tomblin.

WAC Trophy Recipients Over the Years (L to R): Dr. John Tomblin, Al Higdon, Paul Bowen, Sen. Jerry Moran, Ron Ryan, Jeff Turner, and Lynn Nichols.

Photo credit: Darin LaCrone | VMG LLC