Aviation Wall of Fame honors Tech's first astronaut
By David Nutter
Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 04 - September 17, 1998
Virginia Tech will honor the first inductee of its Aviation Wall of Fame at a special ceremony on Friday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m.
The courage and accomplishments of Lt. Col. John McKay, a 1950 graduate of Virginia Tech, will be honored at the Wall of Fame located in the new terminal of the Virginia Tech Airport.
McKay, who died in 1975, was Virginia Tech's first astronaut when he flew an X-15 rocket plane seven miles into space in 1965. Several of McKay's eight children and other family members will attend the ceremony.
According to Air Force Captain Scott Laschkewitsch, an assistant professor of aerospace studies at Virginia Tech, "This wall holds a tremendous legacy. It's a special tribute to alumni of Virginia Tech who have distinguished themselves through significant contributions in the advancement of aerospace. Virginia Tech should be extremely proud of the difference it has made in the fields of aviation and aerospace."
A native of Portsmouth, McKay enrolled as a cadet at Virginia Tech in 1943. After returning from home from service in World War II, he finished his degree in aeronautical engineering in 1950.
McKay started working at NASA-Langley Air Force Base in Virginia after college and went on to work at Edwards Air Force Base. There he flew experimental aircraft and was selected as one of the original X-15 pilots in 1958.
There were 199 X-15 missions and McKay participated in 28 of those. He traveled into space three times and made his last flight on Sept. 8, 1966 and retired from NASA in 1971.
In addition to the Aviation Wall of Fame honor, the annual Air Force ROTC Flight Instruction Program Award has been named in honor of McKay and is presented to the top Air Force Pilot candidate completing the program at the Virginia Tech Airport each year.
Physics alumnus Roger K. Crouch was the first Hokie into orbit when he traveled into space aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1997.
The Virginia Tech Aviation Wall of Fame was completed in the summer 1997 and will be used to recognize the long history of Tech alumni who contributed to military exploration and to the aerospace industry.
In establishing the Wall of Fame, the university's Board of Visitors and the Air Force ROTC department established the following criteria for applicants: significant leadership in the development of aircraft, aeronautical design or spacecraft; or personal heroism through aviation; or significant accomplishment as a commercial or military aviator; or significant contributions to the fields of aviation, aircraft design, or space travel.
Inductees will be selected each year and will have their names engraved on the Aviation Wall of Fame. They will also receive a commemorative plaque. Applications for the wall can be sent to: Arnold Air Society, c/o Air Force ROTC, Virginia Tech, 228 Military Building, Blacksburg, Va., 24061-0245.