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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.


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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 3 July 29, 2008     

Pelton to receive EAA’s highest honor
Jack Pelton. Photo courtesy Cessna Aircraft Co.

It was 40 years ago this week that 10-year-old Jack J. Pelton first experienced EAA’s annual conference and fly-in.

He flew in the right seat of his father’s Cessna 140A from southern California to Rockford, Illinois. While the Peltons—his mother also was a pilot—didn’t attend the event every year, they made the pilgrimage from California to Oshkosh as often as possible.

Jack spent many weekends at air shows throughout the region and at Flabob Airport, where his father was a member of EAA Chapter 1.

"Through that exposure to aviation, I knew I was hooked," Jack said. "It turned into model making while in elementary school, eventually leading to learning to fly and now a wonderful career in aviation."

That career is being recognized tonight with the 2008 Freedom of Flight Award, EAA’s highest honor, bestowed annually to an individual whose contributions to aviation closely mirror the integrity, entrepreneurship, and innovativeness of EAA members.

EAA President Tom Poberezny said Pelton is receiving EAA’s highest award for three reasons. "We’re recognizing Jack for his leadership as chairman of EAA’s Gathering of Eagles; for his vision for supporting the light-sport aircraft initiative, as evidenced by the announcement of Cessna building the SkyCatcher; and lastly, for his longtime involvement in EAA that goes back to his days as a youth growing up in southern California as part of Chapter 1."

Jack’s contributions go beyond his position as chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Cessna Aircraft Company—where he actively influences national policy on general aviation and is highly involved with industry organizations.

He is an EAA Lifetime member, belonging to EAA Warbirds, Vintage, and International Aerobatic Club, and he’s chairman of the Gathering of Eagles, which supports Young Eagles and other EAA programs that inspire youth involvement in aviation.

Jack started his career at Douglas Aircraft, where he worked for 20 years before leaving the company when it was bought by Boeing. He then served as senior vice president of engineering and programs at Fairchild Dornier in Germany, where he was responsible for the 728JET aircraft family.

He joined Cessna in November 2000 as senior vice president of product engineering and oversaw Cessna’s engineering and product development activities, including new aircraft development, design, experimental and production test flight, certifications, and product improvements for all Cessna models.

He was named president and chief executive officer in 2003 and added the title of chairman in 2005. Since being named CEO, Jack has grown Cessna to new heights with the launch of the SkyCatcher, Citation Columbus, and addition of the Cessna 350/400. This along with seven new aircraft certifications is ensuring Cessna’s strong future.

Although he’s attended the past eight AirVentures on business, he still views attending any trade show not as an obligation but as an opportunity to talk to customers, suppliers, peers, and climb around in an aircraft or two.

"Aviation is my passion, and I just happen to work at a place where I can be consumed with my passion," Jack said.

Jack holds a commercial pilot certificate with instrument, multiengine, and seaplane ratings. He also holds type ratings in several Cessna Citation business jets, including the Citation X, the world’s fastest civil aviation airplane.

He owns single-engine aircraft, including a Ryan PT-22, Citabria, and Cessna 195 and 206. The 195, the last one produced, was recently acquired from Velma Wallace, wife of Dwane Wallace, who helped his uncle Clyde Cessna build the business and led Cessna as CEO for decades. Dwane displayed the 195 at AirVenture in the 1980s. After Jack restored the plane, it was on display again at AirVenture 2007, where it won a Bronze Lindy.

"EAA has always inspired me by making me aware that I could be involved in aviation even if it was in my own garage building an airplane," said Jack, noting that his wife, Rose, also is an EAA Lifetime member. "The combination of technical education in building assistance, preservation, and education of youth has been very important to me."

Rose has ordered a Cessna SkyCatcher light-sport aircraft and plans to learn to fly when she takes delivery in late 2009. Jack was behind the push for Cessna to enter this new market, hoping to bring fun back into learning to fly while reducing the price to own and operate an aircraft.

Jack supports numerous grassroots activities to expose kids to aviation, including the Build A Plane organization that gives young people the opportunity to build real airplanes. He wants to do his part to grow and strengthen general aviation, not just because it’s his business but because it’s his hobby.

"The access and venues for youth are not like they were for me 40 years ago," he said. "Security at airports and fewer local air shows just don’t give kids the opportunity I had to go hang out at the airport and bum rides.

"We have to work much harder to ensure we share our story with kids so they can catch the excitement that we all found."

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