Aero Museum Hall of Fame Gala

On October 21, 2023, the San Diego Air & Space Museum was the venue in celebrating the 2023 honorees for the International Air & Space Hall of Fame in the Edwin D. McKellar Pavilion of Flight. Guests from around the world assembled for a spectacular evening of fun and extraordinary recognition, as each guest was treated to a behind the scenes look into the lives of these true air and space legends. 

Since 1963, the International Air & Space Hall of Fame has honored the world’s most significant pilots, crew members, visionaries, inventors, aerospace engineers, business leaders, preservationists, designers and space explorers.

"This exemplary Class of 2023 represent a vast range of the ongoing advances in aviation and space exploration,” said Jim Kidrick, President & CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum. “Achievements in aviation and space, as embodied by the honorees in the prestigious International Air & Space Hall of Fame, directly represents the human pioneering spirit and pursuit of mankind’s final frontiers. Guests come from all over the globe just to be in the room with the Honorees and join in this momentous celebration.”

A few of those Honorees in attendance at the celebration.

William Shatner has cultivated a career spanning over 70 years as an award-winning actor, director, producer, writer, recording artist, and equestrian. He is one of Hollywood’s most recognizable figures and a major philanthropist. On October 13, 2021 he became the oldest person to go into space, at age 90, on board the Blue Origin NS-18; He went beyond the Kármán line. In 1966, Shatner originated the role of “Captain James T. Kirk” in the television series Star Trek. The series spawned a feature film franchise where Shatner returned as Captain Kirk in seven of the Star Trek movies, one of which he directed. Shatner played the title role in the hit television series T.J. Hooker before hosting television’s first reality-based series, Rescue 911. He won Emmys and his first Golden Globe for his portrayal of eccentric lawyer “Denny Crane” on both The Practice and Boston Legal. Shatner has received four more Emmy nominations as well as other Golden Globe and SAG Award nods.

On November 18, 1952, E. Royce Williams was flying with three other members of VF-781 from the USS Oriskany when they encountered seven Mig-15s. Before they could engage, William’s Flight Leader and his wingman had to return to the Oriskanydue to a fuel pump issue. Out manned and piloting what most consider an inferior aircraft to the Mig-15, Williams engaged the seven Migs for 35 minutes, shooting down four of them. This would be the longest dogfight in the history of the US Navy, and the deciding factor would be Williams’ skill as a pilot. Though his Panther was shot 263 times, he was able to make it back to the Oriskany and land safely. Williams is the recipient of the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Distinguished Flying Crosses. 

Robert DeLaurentis is an American aviator, businessman and author. He was the first solo pilot to fly a Piper Malibu Mirage, a small, single-engine plane, around the world from May 17, 2015 to August 14, 2015. The flight covered 26,000 nautical miles and 23 countries in the ninety-eight days for a fundraising campaign to support aviation programs. On August 10, 2020, DeLaurentis completed a nine-month, 26,000 nautical mile polar circumnavigation and global peace mission, “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity” in his modified 1983 aircraft named “Citizen of the World”. 

Jessica Meir is a distinguished NASA astronaut, biologist, and a pivotal member of the groundbreaking Artemis program aimed at landing the first woman and next man on the Moon. Selected as an astronaut in 2013, Meir made history with her participation in the first all-female spacewalk in October 2019 alongside Christina Koch. This milestone exemplified her commitment to breaking barriers in both gender and science. Meir completed her first spaceflight on September 25, 2019, as a flight engineer on Expedition 61/62, logging 205 days in space. Her multi-disciplinary background, which includes a Ph.D. in Marine Biology, enriches NASA's interdisciplinary missions and bridges the gap between science and space exploration. A skilled communicator, Meir is renowned for engaging the public about the importance of STEM and the future of human spaceflight, inspiring a new generation of explorers. She continues to train and prepare for the forthcoming Artemis missions, setting her sights on both lunar and Martian frontiers.

Photography by Robert O'Neill