Criteria for the Spirit of Flight Award

  • Awarded annually to an organization that has made a substantial contribution to aviation in Illinois.

  • The organization's activities must be Illinois based and continuous over a long period of time.

  • The organization's member activities must be above and beyond that of normal paid employment and exhibit a high degree of excellence in their accomplishment.
2017 Spirit of Flight Inductees:
AeroStar Consulting Corporation, Challenger Learning Center - Normal

AeroStar Consulting Corporation

Founded by CEO Tammera Holmes in 2008, AeroStar provides aerospace educational programs to minority K-12 students. Through partnerships with the Federal Aviation Administration, United Airlines, Chicago "DODO" Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen and Priester Aviation, AeroStar has introduced more than 1000 students to careers in aviation.

AeroStar's first program, the Aviation Academic Initiative Pipeline was developed to introduce aviation career opportunities into Chicago classrooms by developing a STEM curriculum focused on aviation subjects. Part of this program, the AeroStar Aviation Exploration Apprenticeship (A2EA) project, is an afterschool program sponsored by the City of Chicago's "After School Matters" program. This program is currently implemented in four Chicago area schools.

While some these activities are normal for an EAA chapter, the volume and quality of activity at EAA Chapter 277 is unusually high. They are the backbone of support for numerous events in Southern Illinois.

The AeroSTEM Youth Aviation Expo is AeroStar's latest project. After School Matters teens from the AeroStars A2EA programs at Perspectives/IIT Math and Science Academy, Air Force Academy High School, and Urban Prep Academy (Bronzeville campus) hosted the AeroSTEM Youth Aviation Expo. Over 300 students and parents from across the city gathered at the Illinois Institute of Technology for this event, giving teens of all backgrounds opportunities to learn about potential career paths. AeroStar partnered with the Illinois Institute of Technology to make the Expo possible.

We salute AeroStar for their efforts to create aviation opportunities for people of all backgrounds.



Challenger Learning Center Normal

On January 28, 1986 the seven crew members of the Space Shuttle Challenger "Teacher in Space" mission set out to broaden educational horizons and advance scientific knowledge. Their space shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. In the wake of that disaster, the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Science Education were created to carry on their teaching mission.

On December 17, 2003, the Challenger Learning Center (CLC) in Normal became the second Challenger Center in Illinois. It was originally part of the Prairie Aviation Museum in Bloomington, and later moved to Heartland Community College in Normal.

Students attending programs at CLC simulate space missions where they become astronauts and engineers, solving real-world problems as they travel through the solar system. Using space simulation and role-playing strategies, students bring their classroom studies to life and cultivate the scientific and teamwork skills needed for future success.

Training is available for teachers to help them prepare class groups for their mission. Programs are also available to scouting groups and to the general public. Each year, approximately 6,000 students visit the Challenger Learning Center and participate in their programs.

We salute Challenger Learning Center for its many programs.





2017 Hall of Fame Inductees:
Marshall F. Knox

Marshall F. Knox was born in 1919 in Mount Vernon, Indiana. His mother moved the family to the Chicago area when he was 3 years old, after the death of his father. He began flying in 1941, and learned to fly at the Coffey School of Aeronautics in Robbins, Illinois.

Knox aspired to become one of the original Tuskegee Airmen in 1941, but lost his chance after a physical exam indicated that his left eye was weak. Undaunted, Knox became an aircraft mechanic, servicing aircraft for the Tuskegee Airmen. For many years, only pilots were called Tuskegee Airmen, however, only 996 pilots graduated from Tuskegee and more than 14,000 support staff kept those pilots airborne. Consequently, anyone that was involved in the Tuskegee experience is a Tuskegee Airman.

Living a life of service to others, stressing the need for education and raising a family were always Knox' priorities. After his service in World War II, Knox taught automotive body and fender at Dunbar Vocational High School in Chicago for 30 years.

Marshall Knox was one of Illinois' first African-American flight instructors, training pilots for 35 years in the Chicago area. He was an honored recipient of the FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. He was a member of the Chicago "DODO" Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen and served as President of both the Black Pilots of America and the Chicago Area Pilots Association. He was a founding director of the Gary Flight Academy, a summer program at the Gary Airport that taught Chicago area youngsters how to fly from 1994 to 2004. Knox donated many hours to the powered flight program at Gary Flight Academy, mentoring, teaching students and helping them to get scholarship awards for further training and education.

Sadly, Knox passed from this world in 2015. We salute him for his service to our country and his many contributions to aviation education and our young people.



Cynthia Madsen

Most organizations have a core group of people that get things done. Cynthia Madsen is one of those people. Cynthia caught the aviation bug as an adult, started flying, earned her private pilot license in 1985 and just kept on going.

Active in the Ninety-Nines since 1986, she has held offices in the Chicago Area Chapter including Chapter Chairman, organized air meets, worked at air markings, events and information booths; and served on numerous committees. Cynthia has also been active at in the North Central Section of the Ninety-Nines, including a term as Vice Governor and then Governor, and served on committees and as a member of the Board of Directors in the Ninety-Nines International.

In addition to her work with the Ninety-Nines, Cynthia is passionate about sharing her love of aviation with others. In 2003 she became a certified flight instructor. She taught Aviation 101 and served as a Charter Board member of and Secretary to Advisory Board, Project: HigherEd at South Suburban College. She has flown over 100 Young Eagles rides, participated in Girl Scout programs and taught flying companions courses.

Cynthia is a Charter Board Member and Secretary to the Historic Ford Hangar Foundation in Lansing, Illinois. The Ford Hangar was originally built by the Ford Motor Company in 1927. The Foundation was formed to oversee the restoration of the landmark hangar.

Cynthia is also a passionate air racer, flying 13 Illi-Nines Air Derbies, 17 Chicago Area Chapter Air Meets, 2 Keokuk Air Derbies and the Buckeye Air Rally. She has also helped organize and host several air derbies and taught proficiency air race clinics.

We salute Cynthia for her tireless activity on behalf of the pilots of Illinois and the organizations which she supports.


Thomas Milton

Tom Milton did more than just bring aviation into the classroom. He got kids excited about aviation by setting up a full-time high school aviation classroom in a hangar in an old World War II Navy Hangar in Chicago. A pilot, aviation mechanic and educator, he taught Aircraft Mechanics at the Chicago Vocational High School. Milton spent many hours arranging extracurricular activities for his students. This included attending fly-ins and arranging introductory flights for the students.

Milton was also active in the Homewood Flossmoor Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol for many years, first as a cadet and later teaching Cadet's Pilot Ground School and becoming Deputy Commander of Cadets. He is an active Aviation Safety Counselor for the FAA and volunteers as a Technical Inspector for the EAA.

However, some of Tom's volunteer efforts for aviation are rather unique. Milton authored and presented Aircraft Rescue Seminars for the Lansing Fire and Police Departments. This is very important work since many first responders are not familiar with aircraft.

Tom Milton is also known throughout Illinois and nationally for his work with gyroplanes. He has served as an Officer and Director of his local Popular Rotorcraft Association (PRA) Chapter 18, the Greater Midwest Rotorcraft Club, for over 35 years. He continues to present educational programs at Chapter 18 meetings. On a national basis, Tom has served for over 35 years as an officer and director of the PRA, an association dedicated to sport rotorcraft safety and education.

We salute Tom Milton for his work at Chicago Vocational High School and his efforts on behalf of the gyroplane and homebuilding community.


Lloyd Thomas

As a young man, Lloyd Thomas dreamed of becoming a naval aviator. Life had other plans. Lloyd became a teacher, graduating from the College of Idaho in 1957 with a degree in secondary education. In 1966, he became a private pilot. Working in the Wheaton, Illinois school district, he convinced the school to allow him to offer each of his students and their parents an opportunity for a flight in his personal airplane. This carried on through the entirety of Lloyd's 39 year teaching career. A number of his students were profoundly affected by this experience and later pursued aviation as a hobby or profession.

Each year, Lloyd would take his students and any parents who also wished to go, out to DuPage Airport. He would take 3 at a time in his Cessna 182 for a flight over Wheaton, while parents supervised the rest of the group.

Lloyd also became a certified flight instructor, instructing and mentoring students from the Wheaton schools and others, including members of his own family. From 1967 to 1981, Lloyd ran the HawkAir Inc. Flying Club. Members paid a fee to participate in the club and fly the aircraft, but all of the instruction was given to members by Lloyd on a volunteer basis. He held monthly meetings in his home with guest speakers, provided ground instruction and flight instruction to members all at no charge.

Lloyd also flew part time as a corporate pilot and charter pilot in a variety of piston and jet aircraft in the years following his time with HawkAir. All of this experience allowed him to provide additional teaching material for his Wheaton school students. Lloyd has continued to give freely of his time, flying friends in need, instructing and working with groups such as Mission Aviation Fellowship.

We salute Lloyd for his devotion to education and his students. He is a true missionary of aviation.


Steve & Tina Thomas

Steve and Tina Thomas are best known for developing Poplar Grove Airport as residential airpark and "lifestyle airport" in Boone County, Illinois. In 1994, they acquired what was then the Belvidere Airport from Steve's father, Richard Thomas. The original facility included a small FBO, flight school and maintenance hangar. Over the years, the airport has become a residential airpark with a very active flight school. The repair facility has grown to a 20,000+ sq. ft. facility that houses an airframe shop, engine shop, accessory shop and ground school classroom. They also operate Emery Air at Rockford, a full service FBO. The combined businesses employ over 170 people.

Poplar Grove Airport is also home to the Vintage Wings and Wheels Museum, which is the public face of the Poplar Grove Aviation Education Association. The museum features vehicles and artifacts from 1903 to 1938. The museum campus includes several historic and restored buildings including a 1938 hangar from Waukesha Airport in Wisconsin. The Poplar Grove Aviation Education Association offers educational programs for students and adults, and also offers aviation education scholarships. Steve and Tina donated the land for the museum, and were among the cofounders of the museum. They have also provided major ongoing support to museum projects and activities since its founding in 1996.

Through the airport facilities and the museum, Steve and Tina host a variety of fly-in events by vintage aircraft groups, EAA Young Eagles rides, Boy Scout and Girl Scout activities, school tours and other activities that promote aviation and bring the public in. They are also strong supporters of EAA Chapter 1414, based at the airport. The airport is often host to organizational fly-ins for a variety of clubs and aviation groups.

We salute you for your support of aviation in Illinois.