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National Aviation Hall of Fame Presents Combs Gates Award to First-Time Author Regina Wirtanen Buker

October 31, 2012

The National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF) today presented its annual Combs Gates Award to first-time author Regina Wirtanen Buker, of Baltimore, MD, during NBAA2012 in Orlando, FL.

Phil Roberts, president of NAHF, presented Buker with a $20,000 cash award for her yet-to-be published book, The Skytrain Pilot: Flying a C-47 Into Combat, which recounts the story of her late father, Lt. George Neale Wirtanen. Piloting the C-47, a military version of the venerable twin-engine Douglas DC-3 transport, with the 442nd Troop Carrier Group in World War II, Lt. Wirtanen flew a total of 87 missions in the European Theatre of Operation (ETO). His first mission was the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.

"This recognition confers awareness to the world the value of the C-47 pilots," said Buker in accepting the award. She encouraged the audience and families of veterans to preserve their letters and write down their stories. "That is our history," she said.

The ceremony featured Buker accepting a ceremonial check and having her photo taken with a group of previous Hall of Fame enshrinees, including former astronaut and the last man to walk on the moon, Eugene Cernan. Also participating in the event were business aviation pioneer and aerial cinematographer Clay Lacy; Tuskegee airman Charles E. McGee; former Cessna Aircraft Chairman and CEO Russ Meyer, Jr.; and air show legends Bob Hoover and Sean D. Tucker. NAHF Enshrinement Director Ron Kaplan led the ceremony.

NBAA and the NAHF have a long history with the award, which is named after two business aviation legends – Harry Combs and Charles Gates – and the award has been presented at the NBAA Convention since 2003.

In writing the book, Buker referenced wartime letters, flight logs and other documentation she found after her father’s 1999 death to craft her tribute to the courage of thousands of unsung troop and transport crews of the ETO. In the process, she also found a compelling way to preserve her father’s wartime legacy.

Buker points out that General Dwight D. Eisenhower once cited the C-47 as one of the four pieces of equipment that won WWII, but her book spotlights the people that flew them in harm’s way.
NBAA2012 Attendees are invited to stop by the Hall of Fame’s show exhibit (Booth No. 3631) to meet Buker. Learn more about the NAHF at