Former Thunderbirds pilot wins Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy

ARLINGTON, Va. – Retired Gen. Lloyd Newton, the first African American Thunderbirds pilot, received the 2018 Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy during the 71st National Aeronautics Association’s Wright Brothers Memorial Dinner in Washington, D.C., Dec. 14.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, who introduced Newton during the ceremony, thanked Newton for his service and his ability to break barriers in the Air Force.


“You once said flying is in your blood,” Goldfein said. “I know each person here would agree that service, passion and inspiring others are also in your DNA. Our Air Force and our nation are better today because of your leadership and unwavering dedication to airpower.”

Newton, who flew 269 combat missions during the Vietnam War, is the first African American to receive the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy. During the ceremony, he thanked Goldfein, past and current colleagues, his family and reflected on what it means to be included among the “greats” of aviation history.

“It is very clear to me that the Wright brothers started something that was bigger than themselves and probably what they could have ever imagined,” said Newton. “I would say that through aviation, the Wright brothers helped start the first internet. What I mean by that, is that it was another way to connect people together all over the world in a much faster speed of time. It was on that day in 1903, Dec. 17, when the magic really happened and the whole world stopped, just to understand what they were doing, and it’s still with us today.

“The question I ask myself is, ‘How did a lad from the cotton fields of Richmond, South Carolina, find himself standing here on this stage and receiving a trophy like this?’ I pause and think about that, and the only answer that comes to my mind is that, ladies and gentlemen, only in America.”

The Wright brothers are known for their public service as well as breaking barriers and being major pioneers in aviation history. According to an NAA press release, the trophy was created in 1948 and is presented annually to a “living American who has contributed significant public service of enduring value to aviation in the United States.”

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